James Hinton was having his morning coffee late Tuesday morning when he noticed thick, black smoke blowing toward the southeast of his home.
Hinton, who leases property to oil companies in east-central Alberta, watched it for a while before getting in his vehicle and following the smoke to find out what was going on.
"I know a lot of these guys. We've been watching them drill this hole that's been producing since just before Christmas," he told reporters Wednesday.
"I knew that wasn't normal, so I just went over and had a look."
Four crude oil tanks caught fire Tuesday at Hinton's privately leased oil site, 23 kilometres southeast of the village of Mannville, Alta., in the area of Township Road 480 and Range Road 81.
The fire, which burnt for most of the day, sent a plume of toxic smoke into the air, triggering an air quality alert for a cluster of communities 175 kilometres east of Edmonton.
Due to the remote location and magnitude of the fire, crews from the Village of Irma, Town of Wainwright, County of Vermilion River and the Town of Vegreville were called in to help.
The alert, issued around 5 p.m. Tuesday, was lifted two hours later as the fire was brought under control and fumes subsided.
James Hinton, who leases property to oil companies in east-central Alberta, was having his morning coffee late Tuesday morning when he noticed fire billowing from a piece of land he leases to an oil company. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)
Hinton said he leases the property to Calgary-based oil company Lycos Energy Inc., where the fire took place. His security cameras captured the first puff of smoke at 10:40 a.m. Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters near the property on Wednesday, Hinton said he wasn't too concerned about the fire since it seemed clear to him that crews had it contained.
But for the number of oil wells in the county, he said incidents like Tuesday's fire don't happen often.
"That's what's unusual," Hinton said.
Hinton doesn't know what caused the fire, but said Lycos Energy contacted him Wednesday morning to apologize for what happened.
He said he's also confused why the air quality alert was sent out in the first place.
"You couldn't even smell the fire," Hinton said.
Four crude oil tanks caught fire at this oil lease site east of Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon, triggering an emergency alert for surrounding communities due to concerns about toxic smoke. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)
Cleanup efforts and an investigation into the cause of the fire are now underway, according to Minburn County director of protective services Mike Fundytus.
He told CBC News it was the biggest fire he's seen in his career.
"It was quite amazing to see actually; it was a visual spectacle," Fundytus said.
Fundytus said there were 15 fire trucks and about 50 personnel on scene to fight the fire.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the county said it is now working with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and the lease site owner as the investigation continues.
No injuries were reported.
"We are grateful for the diligent efforts of emergency responders in successfully containing and extinguishing the fire," said Pat Podoborozny, chief administrative officer for Minburn County, in the statement.
"We are focused on the cleanup phase to ensure the community's safety and the preservation of our environment."
Mike Fundytus, director of protective services for the County of Minburn, said the fire at the oil lease 23 kilometres southeast of the village of Mannville, Alta., was the biggest he’s seen in his career. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)
A statement from the AER said it was informed of the fire by Lycos Energy Inc. around 11:40 a.m. Tuesday.
The regulator, which will oversee remediation efforts, said an investigation is underway.
"The AER is reviewing the cause and circumstances of the incident to determine if the company met all requirements leading up to the incident," AER said in a statement.
Inspectors were at the site Wednesday and officials will continue to monitor the company's activities related to incident clean-up, to ensure requirements are met, the AER said.