When Laura Saunders left her 100 Mile home due to the Flat Lake fire on July 14, she had eight horses, five sheep and nine goats.
When she returned home a week ago, she had an extra foal and twin kids – all three of which were born on the run in Barriere during their recent evacuation due to the Flat Lake wildfire. “I was so excited,” Saunders said of the births. “It’s a fresh start.”
Saunders is just one of many ranchers and small farmers who found themselves leaving their homes and properties due to wildfires in the South Cariboo. But while she was able to take horses to a friend’s place in McLure and left her smaller animals at the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo Association’s fairgrounds before moving them back home again, others haven’t been so lucky.
Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association, said many cattle ranchers have found themselves constantly on the move as fires continue to burn across the province. A drought in June has compounded the situation, he said. with a drastic shortage in feed “that is causing some issues for us.”
“With these smaller herds and stuff it’s usually a challenge to get them hauled and find a place to haul them,” he said.
“We had a bunch go to the fairgrounds in Falkland but now there’s an alert there. It’s a challenge now, where do you take them so they don’t have to be relocated again? We found in 2017 there were a lot of smaller organizations that were better equipped to handle the numbers.”
Although some of the bigger ranches have been able to move their cattle to rangeland closer to home, he noted they are constantly moving them to stay a step ahead of the fast-moving fires.
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“It’s one of those things where they are relocated today and they have to move them tomorrow,” Boon said. “For some of these people, they have been moving cattle steadily since the fires started.
“We’re in a real critical shortage of feed and any place to move them,” he said. “Every place that’s burning is where our pastures are. That’s our summer home for our cattle.”
Boon noted there have been many deaths of cattle and wildlife as fires go on a run. The heat and smoke are having an effect on livestock, he said, noting many cows will only eat at night, and they anticipate smaller calves this year because they aren’t able to get feed at this time.
Saunders acknowledged getting feed is a problem this year for evacuees. She and her foster daughter had been getting hay for the potential evacuation when the order came down. They arrived home to find a pink ribbon on their gate and an officer knocking on their door. It took them 48 hours to pack up everything and transport the animals.
While she has been able to return home to her property on Highway 24, three kilometres east of Highway 97, she remains on alert as the Flat Lake wildfire is still out of control. The fire was most recently mapped at 53,211 hectares and several orders and alerts remain in place for other areas of both the Cariboo and Thompson Nicola regional districts.
Saunders sometimes wonders if she should have stayed in Barriere a few more days. It took her three trips to get her animals home, including the new foal, called Embers and Ashes, and the goats – a boat and a girl – christened Junior and Bunny.
“The other night I got a bit of a scare,” she said. “The smoke was just so bad.”
However, she adds it’s better to be at home, where she had left behind her chickens, rooster, barn cat and a livestock guardian dog, rather than a living out of a trailer. “When you don’t know what’s going on at home, it’s hard.”