Edward Reihl is on the road to recovery after crawling through flames on his hands and knees during raging wildfires in southern Saskatchewan.
According to his son, Kent, Reihl was trying to save his cattle in a pasture near Burstall during wildfires on Oct. 18, when he suffered severe burns to his hands, knees, shoulder and arm.
Reihl lives in Medicine Hat, but still operates family farms with his other son, Keith, in the areas around Richmound, Fox Valley and Burstall.
Kent told 980 CJME on the day of the wildfires, his father had already moved the herd of 85 cattle once to try to get them to safety. However, as the fire continued to sweep across the region, he headed out again that night hoping to cut the fence and let them loose.
Kent said that’s when the situation turned even more dangerous, and his father found himself stopped on a grid road with two other men, including a volunteer firefighter with a water truck.
They were trying to decide which direction was safest to head.
“The fire was so large and moving so fast that it changed direction and threw the fire right at them and pretty much right on top of them,” Kent said.
His dad followed the water truck trying to make a tight turn back towards Burstall, but it was so smoky and dark with fire everywhere that they couldn’t see. Both drivers then went down a steep embankment and the water truck overturned.
“At this time now, they’re right in the fire, everything is burning. The trucks are burning and my father basically said, ‘Ok, I’ve got to get out of here, I’m going to burn or I’m going to blow up,” Kent said.
“He managed to get himself out of his truck and crawled through the fire up the embankment on top of the road.”
Kent said long-time friends of the Rhl family left their own neighbouring farms that were in jeopardy and went to look for his dad.
“They did find him on the roadway a little ways a way from where the vehicles were burning,” Kent explained, noting they drove him first to the town of Richmound where they met the ambulance that had to reroute to Medicine Hat as Leader was being evacuated.
Kent followed his father’s ambulance, behind Ron and Evan Wedrick from Tompkins, to the burn unit at Foothills Hospital in Calgary.
Reihl had suffered burns to his knees, arm and face, but the worst were on his hands from crawling through the fire. Both hands and one arm required skin grafting.
Kent said his father is now out of hospital and doctors at his latest appointment said he is recovering well ahead of schedule.
“There’s a long way to go yet, because his hands with the new skin and stuff… those guys are farmers and they want to work right away… you can’t work right away with that type of injury,” Reihl explained with a bit of a laugh, noting that his father is being very careful with his treatments.
Reihl said his dad and brother are also still dealing with the emotional impact of losing their entire herd.
Friends have stepped up to help out his brother, who runs the farm and has another job, particularly while his father can’t drive.
Kent said he’s grateful for the communities banding together to support each other when so many people lost so much, pointing to the attitude of small-town Saskatchewan where helping neighbours comes first.
“That’s the way those communities are, that’s the way you’re raised out there. You do everything else for everybody first.”