02/06/2013 11:28 EST | Updated 04/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Beiseker Family Delivered Shocking Bill After Lightning Burns Down Farm


BEISEKER, Alta. -- An Alberta family has been dealt another devastating blow, six months after a fire burned down part of their historic farm.

On July 27, lightning sparked a fire at the Grand Ole West Villa Ranche east of Beiseker, destroying five buildings and countless family heirlooms.

"I just remember thinking had the fire trucks got here in a timely fashion, we would have only lost one building,'' says Ruth Hixt, who owns the ranch. "I put the sprinkler on around the house, I was sure it was going to take everything.''

As if the blaze wasn't bad enough, the family has since received a $25,000 bill from Rocky View County for the emergency response.

The charges include $950 for the chief and deputy chiefs to arrive at the scene and $9,600 for the fire engines that responded.

The Hixt family is shocked, saying the fire chief assured them that there would be no charge, and they weren't aware the county had a cost recovery policy in place.

"At the time of the fire, the Rocky View County fire chief indicated to me that there would be absolutely no charge whatsoever for the costs incurred,'' remembers Larry Hixt. "We were literally shocked and disappointed that they would go back on their word.''

"I understand if it's negligence on the part of the landowner, but this wasn't_this was out of our control,'' adds Ruth Hixt. "It was lightning and there's nothing we could have done about it.''

It turns out that Rocky View County implemented a cost recovery program last spring, which charges people who require emergency services, whether it's for a fire or for a car crash.

"Fire service taxes are paid for fire services on a standby basis. That covers the costs of running the hall on a day-to-day basis,'' explains Lorraine Wesley-Riley from Rocky View County. "The charges are levied onto the individual to be passed on to the insurance company.''

However, the Hixts weren't able to get insurance on some of their historic buildings because they are so old.

It makes you wonder if you should call 911 in an emergency,'' Ruth says, "or if you should suffer that loss or suffer the loss of the bill you're going to get from the county.

"If I were asked at this point what our taxes cover, probably not a whole lot.''

The Hixts have been told they can appeal the bill, which they are already in the process of doing.