During the first week of local evacuations due to raging wildfires in the South Cariboo, the Interlakes Community Centre (ICC) and rodeo grounds was a hauling hub for horses and small animals, as well as an emergency food bank that helped masses of wildfire evacuees in the South Cariboo.
Helping care for the animals was an interesting task that began small and spread to include everything from donkeys to rabbits and everything in between – all done by volunteers.
ICC vice-president Craig Charleton says it all began when he was looking for a way to help the evacuees when he was approached by the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team (CDART) volunteers to help with the “staging” of smaller animals – a place to board them temporarily for resting and preparation for further traveling to wherever they needed to go.
When the ICC realized they wanted to include the larger animals, such as horses and llamas, he says they knew they’d need to expand to include some of the other animal rescue groups, too.
“We went and we got some hay and some water, and there are a whole lot of people out here that love horses and know a whole bunch about them.”
Once the horses and donkeys began to arrive, all the volunteers just fell into the task with an endless energy and enthusiasm that didn’t go unnoticed, he explains.
Charleton says he credits most of all the helpers who formed a group called 100 Mile Haulers to organize the relief efforts and were instrumental in this project for rescuing and hauling all these animals.
While mostly on location to help with the staging, Charleton says he went along on a couple of trips with Teal River Transport owner-operator Cheri Saunders, since he was born and raised in the Interlakes area.
“She was there with her kids, and they came all the way from Armstrong. They had one of those trailers with … a little bit of living quarters … and I swear they were in there for a week. Just nonstop travelling to gather horses.”
Saunders says the 100 Mile Haulers contacted her initially, and she was pleased to join up as a driver to help transport all these animals.
Teal River Transport was among the many volunteers hauling animals from as far away as North Vancouver offering animal transport, and others offering hay and other supports, he adds.
“There were times there were five empty trailers available to haul stuff from people all over the place. They brought us hay for the horses from Victoria – on the ferry over. It’s just kind of amazing.”
Charleton notes “Julio” was a staging donkey, and once Highway 24 closed to eastbound traffic for a short time to facilitate all traffic from the westbound evacuees, such a huge number of people stopped to try and help “rescue” the donkey (he suspects the animal was posted on social media) thinking it needed relocating.
“There were so many people panicking wanting to relocate the donkey, that it just ended up that by 12 a.m. that night, the police had to come and say ‘this is what this is… and continue on’.”
ICC member Jil Freeman was also “amazing” for her help with a lot of the organizing and permits, Charleton says, adding people were just really coming together by that point.
“I saw goods come from Kamloops to Canim Lake in like 3 1/2 hours, and I also witnessed it taking six hours to get a permit to go feed a gerbil in the 108.”
Charleton says there were so many nice people volunteering to halter and walk the horses, to brush and groom them, including Interlakes sisters, Daniela Wettstein and Valaurie Wettstein, of Wettstone Guest Ranch.
Since the rodeo grounds was built for these animals, it was “a piece of cake” to keep them all safe, organized and restful, which also helped keep the owners calm if they had missing animals found among them, he explains.
“We had people up here and they’d just be shaking– just vibrating about their horse, worried about the [perceived] danger.”
Charleton also thanks Cambria Volonte of Gaia Acres at Bridge Lake for immediate response turning out with the hoses and buckets he needed, and all the other locals who helped, some even bringing hay off their own fields.
“It was like, ‘hol-ey, this is happening’ – and then I was pretty much there 24/7, for a week.”