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You Find Out Who Your Friends Are When Wildfires Strike

Posted by Julia Smith on

I'm on my second day of office arrest catching up on work that has been neglected and overlooked lately. Mostly this is because I would rather do damn near anything than office work but it needs to be done so here I sit. 

My office faces SSW which is pretty much exactly where the weather comes from so I'll be sitting here all day watching the weather roll in. The good news is that we have some rain in the forecast. The bad news is that we may also get some lightening. 

I used to love a good "thunder boomer." I've even been known to go storm chasing. But that was another time... another life. In this life, the word "lightening" fills me with dread and anxiety. Seems like we went straight from flood season to fire season this year. One minute it was too wet to burn the giant piles of dead wood we pulled out of the forest last year and the next minute we had a fire ban on. So now we basically have a fire buffet sitting here and everything is tinder dry. 

It isn't like we didn't know about the fire risk. That's why we started clearing the dead fall out in the first place. We put the pigs into the forest to clear the brush, then we can get in with the chainsaw and start clearing out the big stuff. But we are far from finished the job and were not at all prepared for one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. 

Nothing like smoke moving in to help get your ass in gear though. We had our first scare a few weeks ago when smoke suddenly started coming in from the south west. We are about 12km west of Merritt so we saw it before anyone else and it scared the crap out of me. I assumed there was a fire nearby and called it in. I feel rather silly now (rookie move) but I didn't know of any fires nearby and it seemed like an awful lot of smoke. Hearts pounding, Ludo and I jumped in the truck with two fire extinguishers and headed in the direction of the smoke. There is a forestry campsite at the end of our road so we thought a campfire might have gotten out of control. We also wanted to check on our neighbour's place as she was away for the weekend so we headed there first. All good. Just smokey. Nothing happening at the lake. We poked around some side roads and couldn't find anything so we headed back by which time it had been determined that it was coming from the Harrison Lake fire. We were relieved but well aware of the fact that it could just as easily have been a fire here so we started ramping up our fire plans. 

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that things have gone from bad to worse since then. Wildfires are raging throughout the southern interior and the cariboo, threatening homes, livestock, ranges and roads. At one point we had small fires on either side of our mountain and could even see the smoke from one of them but thankfully they were able to get them out before they got out of control. So, for the most part, we have been relatively safe and sound here. Unfortunately that is not the case for a lot of folks. 

It has been uplifting and inspiring to see the response to the crisis and how communities and perfect strangers are pulling together. Evacuating livestock can be a whole lot more complicated than evacuating people and that is one part of our fire plan that was an obvious weak point. How to quickly move 120 pigs? The cattle ranchers often just open the gates and hope for the best but pigs are different. I can't just jump on my horse and go round up my pigs after a fire. There's no rounding up pigs. Not only are they damn unruly and un-herdable, they are destructive and I certainly do not want to be responsible for a new feral hog population ravaging the southern interior. No, throwing open the gates was not an option. 

We have a number of trailers but only one truck that can tow them and even if we had enough trucks for all the trailers we could only move two-three of our fully grown pigs in any one trailer. So I put a call out on Facebook and am happy to report that we now have enough people we can call and a plan to move all our pigs quickly off the mountain and down to the relatively safety of the rodeo grounds in town where friends from the coast could come and pick them up and move them to the Fraser Valley if we had to get them out of here. This was the biggest relief. Caring for livestock is a huge responsibility and knowing that we had a plan made us feel a whole lot better. We still have a lot of work to do on the property clearing brush and cutting down trees that are too close to buildings but at least we know that our animals will probably be safe.

So now we could turn our attention to helping less fortunate folks. There are a number of facebook groups and mapping aps bringing people who need help together with people who can help them so I have listed us as both available to haul livestock and to host livestock and people here. I have to admit, it is pretty stressful taking the truck and trailer away from here. If a fire were to break out here while we are away, we may not even be able to come back due to road closures and evacuations.  But when our friends at Singing Lands Ranch called for a rescue we were grateful to be in a position to help. 

Thankfully, my brother is helping us with the farm now so we left him behind to hold down the fort and headed up the very smokey Deadman Valley to evacuate 10 pigs. These guys are even more off the grid than we are. at 56km up a long, winding, narrow gravel road, they are well and truly isolated. The Loon Lake fire was only 20km away and it was time to go. It was an erie feeling to see the sky becoming darker and darker at 1:00 in the afternoon. The smoke muffled all sounds and 4 RCMP vehicles cruised silently by with their lights flashing as they went around making sure everyone in the area knew about the evacuation alert. It took some doing (and two bags of chips) but we finally had all the pigs loaded in the trailer and were happy to be heading back to the relative safety of our ranch where the wildfire refugees were welcomed with yoghurt and much fresher air.

Practically everyone we know is pitching in to help in some way so while the fires will be well and truly devastating for many people, a lot more of us will be better prepared for next time (and there will be a next time). We all know that help will come and that we aren't on our own. 

If you want to help, the BC Horse Council is collecting donations to help with the expenses associated with evacuating ALL livestock (not just horses). You can learn more and donate here

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