The ferocity of the St. Mary’s River fire north of Cranbrook, and the speed at which it moved put lives at risk and an entire community in peril. RCMP are sharing a tale of resilience and bravery from the day the fire broke out, July 17, 2023.
At around 3, Cranbrook RCMP responded to an urgent call from the ʔaq’am community which was in immediate danger due to the rapidly spreading wildfire, believed to have been sparked by downed hydro lines.
Upon receiving the alert, all available RCMP officers in Cranbrook, in conjunction with officers from the RCMP’s Indigenous Policing Services, were dispatched to assist the community with emergency evacuations.
“Extraordinarily, even with the realization that at any moment their exit may be blocked by the fire, they moved forward,” read a statement from the RCMP.
“As they worked to get people out, the wildfire rapidly advanced, overtaking Mission Wasa Low Road and cutting off the only exit. This sudden progression trapped the seven RCMP officers, along with two municipal employees, and one civilian.”
Emergency air extraction was requested immediately, and E-Division’s Air Support and a commercial company, Big Horn Helicopters, were engaged to provide crucial assistance. Bighorn Helicopters successfully evacuated the trapped civilian and the two municipal employees.
By 4:45 p.m., a temporary stabilization of the wildfire allowed the remaining seven RCMP officers to evacuate safely.
Amid this devastation, it was discovered that a three-legged dog named Three-Leg, a beloved member of the ʔaq’am community, had been left behind during the evacuation. Despite her fear, and the danger surrounding her, three dedicated officers from the Indigenous Policing Services, Cst. Alistair Peers, Cst. Monte Webb, and Cst. Eldene Stanley, refused to leave her behind.
After multiple attempts, they were able to locate Three-Leg hiding under the stairs of her home. Cst. Webb picked up Three-Leg and safely took her to the Steeples Veterinary Clinic. Thanks to the officers’ efforts, Three-Leg was examined and found to be in good health.
“A heartfelt recognition goes out to Cst. Peers, Cst. Webb, and Cst. Stanley, for their efforts during this time of crisis. Their good news story provides a beacon of hope amidst the ongoing wildfire disaster,” the RCMP said in a statement.
As of today, the wildfire has wreaked havoc on the ?aq’am community and surrounding Cranbrook area, destroying several structures and continuing to burn.
“The RCMP continues to work closely with all our partners to monitor the situation and assist wherever possible. We are grateful to all the officers, emergency personnel, and volunteers for their tireless efforts during this difficult time.”