26 FIRE crews sent volunteers home

protect themselves while haying. Important papers were packed and vehicles fueled up in case they had to run. “We had 500 cattle

scattered up on the mountain and 20 horses here that we would have moved. Mainly, in the back of our minds, we weren’t going. The horses and everything would have been put in the hay field with the sprinklers running over us. Most of our irrigation is gravity-fed, so it would run continuously,” she explains. The decision to keep the

children at the farm was quick and the right thing, she says. Empire Valley was closed to tourists for backcountry camping, so as long as others weren’t coming in, she felt pretty safe. “There wasn’t any place in central BC where there wasn’t fires. We felt they were safer here with us. We could protect them just as good as anyone else,” she says. Her nieces and nephews

weren’t as lucky. Williams Lake had very short notice when evacuation order came. Their mom – Joyces sister-in-law –

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was working at the fire station and was needed in the community. Although safe, the kids were separated while evacuating. Some lived at a vacation spot while others lived in a trailer at an evacuation station. “Their step-dad was a water bomber and their dad was fighting fires … they were separated for six weeks. How do you counsel those kids?”


They closed everything in the house, ran the humidifier and laundry to keep moisture in the air and help dissipate the smoke. They worked outside but took breaks and used wet cloths over their faces to cut the smoke. “There were days – many

days – that it was unnerving because it smelled so close,” Holmes recalls. Their livestock were okay but that wasn’t the case for others. “A friend of ours lost cattle

in the fire north of Cache Creek. They tried to move the cows and the cows refused to leave.”

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alert, fire is always top of mind. She realizes people’s lives were at risk but says it felt impossible to leave and that was hard for those who came to fight the fire or man roadblocks to understand. “They didn’t have any idea of what was at stake here – the thousands of dollars invested, whether we own this place or not – 500 cows, and all of the equipment. You just can’t order somebody out,” she says. “They were going about it totally wrong. One ranch in particular saved the houses but they lost everything else – all their summer grass, all their winter grass, their corrals and hay, and forestry told them to get out. They stayed because it was their livelihood and they saved some big infrastructure that would have had to be replaced.” Her family stood behind those in Big Creek who chose not to abide the evacuation order. They were all concerned backburns wouldnt be controlled. The community was already surrounded by fire so moving 100 head of cattle would have been nearly impossible, except by horseback.

Doubtful Holmes isn’t hopeful the

provincial fire aftermath inquiry will resolve anything. “I don’t think that the

government understands the magnitude of what was going on and the total lack of planning, total lack of listening. I actually have family and friends in the fire centre who know how things were being handled; it was totally out of control.” As part of moving forward, she attended a recent seminar in Williams Lake for


ranchers to talk about what comes after disaster. She fully believes you can't buy your way out of disaster if you haven't proactively prepared for it financially.

“Disaster is something that nobody plans for, whether it’s fire or drought or flood or a tough, deep-snow winter, because we haven’t had to plan for it,” Holmes says. “In that meeting, everyone wanted Dave Pratt to tell them the answer and he said you have to plan for the worst. If you’ve got fire that’s burned your range, you can’t afford to feed your cattle all summer and produce hay, so sell the cows, which can then be bought back in time. This was the stuff the speaker was putting in peoples’ heads but it’s very hard. You have to change your way of thinking that ‘that’s my animals, I can’t sell them,’ which is difficult for ranchers who are very tied to their lifestyle and their animals.” At Empire Valley Ranch,

they’ve got grass but limited water so they’re already making modifications. “Our range rotation is

changing a bit so we’re not so dependent on the water truck. We’re going to move the cattle through the drier country sooner and get out of it sooner so we’re going to shuffle our cattle along a little faster to the mountains where there’s more water and feed,” she explains. They weaned and sold earlier last fall due to extremely dry pastures which were not offering much weight gain to the calves. At Big Creek, they’ve built a better fire guard and they’re moving out dead trees to get rid of fire fuel. They are going to do some backburning and they’ve got two water tanks. She says they’re looking at reducing the herd by one eighth given uncertainty for

COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • APRIL 2018 nfrom page 25

2018. “We’re considering

downsizing enough that we don’t over-utilize our natural resources at Empire and at Big Creek. We may be in for another dry summer. When I flew over the country that did burn last summer, I was surprised by how much was burned but also by how much fuel is still there that can burn still. And now, it’s even drier because there are fire- damaged dead tree trunks,” she says.

Keep moving forward “The community of Big

Creek just had a fundraiser for a couple that got burned out. The whole personal side is still shattered. There’s so many people still trying to build up what they lost. They did a great job fundraising but they’re a long way from being back into their home and they’re not the only ones,” Holmes says.

She talks of those living in homes that weren’t insured and of people who left Williams Lake and missed work who were already living paycheque to paycheque. “Another mill burned down

in Williams Lake,” she adds. “It’s economic, but there’s a whole emotional side. People are really drained right now.” She doesn’t really know

how people will deal with the trauma when, after a long winter, fear remains. “Life is more important than belongings, but when you’re uprooted and totally burned out and then try to go back there, I haven’t experienced that. “What do you do? You say

‘Oh, we can rebuild your house’…” as her voice trails off. “This fundraiser was for a couple who was helping a neighbour to save their place when their own burned. How do you counsel that – the regret?”

March 31, 2018—45th Annual

Dawson Creek All Breeds Bull Sale April 14, 2018 — 43rd Annual

Vanderhoof All Breeds Bull Sale

April 19 & 20, 2018 — 81st Annual Williams Lake Bull Show & Sale

Find a Hereford Breeder near you!

Visit for a copy of the BC Hereford Breeder Directory 2018-20






BCHA President John Lewis 250-218-2537

BCHA Secretary Janice Tapp 250-699-6466

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