20 WILDFIRE rescue

of the fire. The fire had burnt up and they were all sitting there. … It was a spot that they like. They have a water hole there, it’s kind of sheltered, so I wasn’t surprised to see them sitting there.”

Some looked worse for

wear – covered with soot – but the Schneiders were thankful they were alive. “We at least knew that we

had a group of them alive because that’s our mortgage payment, our livelihood, and they’re like my babies – I calved those,” she says. “So we were pretty happy to see at least a group of them.” By this point, the Schneiders were in touch with Merritt range agrologist Phil Gyug, who worked with fire crews to rescue the animals. “They were really good to

us,” Schneider says. “They were willing to help us out to get them out of there once we told them that was our livelihood and how much was at stake.” Three days later, Gyug took a posse of riders including the Schneiders and Breens up on the range to bring in the animals. By July 15, the entire herd except 14 cow-calf pairs and a few bulls were safely pastured on two fields on the valley floor before being taken to range east of Princeton. The final stragglers appeared the day before the evacuation order was lifted and stayed at the home farm for the rest of the summer. “We were lucky in

Princeton. The fire was under control in two weeks,” says

nfrom page 19

Schneider, who spent a dozen days in the evacuation zone tending the ranch. “We couldn’t say for sure until we were done rounding up this fall … that we didn’t lose a calf or anything, and we didn’t.”

Recovery effort

The disaster was hardly what the Schneiders expected when they bought the ranch in 2014 with plans to run 100 head across its 324 acres. Both in their 30s, they had spent a decade working Quentin’s grandfather’s ranch in Cawston. Princeton was a chance to set up for themselves. “[We] finally got it together enough to start our own up here,” Schneider says. But making a new start has

thrown them back on the support of family and friends. “You never expect to lose

everything – every building, every fence – and to try to be rebuilding it all at one time on top of rounding up your cows, you just start to feel like a crazy person,” Schneider says. With the help of family,

fences were rebuilt across the property and a new steel equipment shed was erected that will shelter tools from the weather and allow them to be plugged in so they don’t freeze in temperatures that were already dipping below - 20 degrees Celsius in November. Pulling it all together has

taken clear thinking as well as determination. “You really just have to look

at your priorities and think ‘what do I need to get through the winter,’ and clean up what absolutely has to be cleaned up,” Schneider says. “It’s pretty unreal what we have gotten accomplished in just a few months.” Somewhere in

between, the Schneiders assembled the paperwork needed to meet the January 31 deadline for AgriRecovery wildfire relief claims. “It’s been a full- time job doing paperwork, between paperwork for insurance and then AgriRecovery. I haven’t really gotten a whole lot [of funds] yet but then it’s partly my fault,” says Schneider, who says the level of detail being requested is onerous. “I’m trying to round up my cows every day and rebuild my whole ranch. I don’t have time to fill out how many hours I’ve spent raking up nails and removing trees.” Payments are being made

per bred cow and then only for items that couldn’t have been insured. Since the Schneiders ranch outside the local fire district’s boundaries, insurance rates for many items were high and they


The Schneiders weren’t sure until fall whether they lost any cattle to the wildfire that ripped through their ranch and range. HALLIE BREEN PHOTO

opted against coverage for many older structures. “We live outside of the fire

district so our insurance is very high for our ranch,” she explains. “You’re not going to insure a shelter that’s maybe only worth $1,000. But like I say, you never expect everything to be gone.” There’s also no compensation for hay lost when outbuildings burned or production lost on pasture where the 14 cow-calf pairs grazed through the summer. While relief funding is

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appreciated, the costs of what isn’t covered quickly add up as the ranch undertakes a total rebuild.

The new normal? Post-fire meetings of the

Princeton Stock Breeders Association suggest what happened this year could be repeated in the years to come. The association was recently told that BC still has 45 million acres of pine beetle-killed forest, and a quarter-billion acres that haven’t seen fire in a century. “You hope that nothing is going to be back,” says Hallie Breen, who has attended the meetings with Schneider. “Sadly, the numbers aren’t on our side.” This year has ranchers


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talking about how to face future fires. Range access to rescue cattle is a key issue. While neither Breen nor Schneider lost animals, BC Cattlemen’s is surveying members to gauge the extent of losses province-wide. Princeton ranchers would like to see a permit system linked to premises ID or some other method that would facilitate access. “Ranchers aren’t a hindrance. We’re just trying to protect our stuff as well as anyone else would,” says Breen. “We’re going to do our best to save our place, our neighbours’, our friends’. … When it comes to the forest fires, [the crews] are definitely excellent.” Schneider, for her part, is

already looking ahead to calving season. While the paperwork is essential, she expects 80 calves come spring. Relief funding is important but it’s the animals that will put the life back in the family ranch.

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