Caring from the heart: Wildfire livestock evacuations to Barriere

By the time this issue of the Star/Journal hits the streets it will have been 22 days since the wildfires in the North Thompson started to threaten structures and residents in our valley. Friday, July 7, was the beginning of numerous evacuations of both people and their animals from homes, businesses, farms and ranches. These evacuations were quickly followed by those in the vicinity of Highway 24, and then into the Cariboo. Communities opened their doors and made room for folks who had been displaced, we welcomed them with open arms and hopefully we have eased their time while away from the place that they call home. With the people came the animals, a Noah’s Ark of creatures that also needed to be housed, fed and cared for. Thanks to brave and dedicated volunteer haulers who stepped forward to transport the animals out of danger, a steady stream of animals took to the roadways, and as a result the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo Association (NTFFRA) opened the gates to their 27 acre facility in the heart of Barriere. Your Star/Journal editor is also the president and facility manager of the NTFFRA, and as a result became the facility manager for the livestock evacuations taking place in our area of the province. Along with evacuated livestock, the NTFFRA also welcomed numerous families in trailers, RV’s and cars to the facility. Some mornings we found over 100 units in our parking lots after an evening evacuation order had them ousted from their homes. They rested, used the facilities and moved on to friends, relatives, or just somewhere without the smoke. A number of these families went no further. Many joined with us in looking after the large menagerie under our care, and many will remain a part of our hearts forever. Our ‘Fall Fair family’, it’s friends and supporters, have been crazy busy over the past 22 days caring for all the evacuated animals that have come through our gates. At one point we had 378 individuals under our care: horses, mules, donkeys, minis, sheep, goats, alpacas, cattle, rabbits, chickens, and even a few cats and dogs. I won the ‘most sleep lottery’ one night when I logged in two-and-a-half hours, many volunteers had no sleep. The outpouring of support from the haulers, the volunteers, those who donated endless loads of hay, feed and supplies, and the never ending ‘meals on wheels’ provided by community families that has kept the volunteers and our guests fed has been truly amazing. Those who provide fuel for the transport vehicles, veterinary supplies, the use of a large tractor and side-by-side, and all the wonderful never-ending phone calls that asked “What do you need?” will never be forgotten. I cannot express how much gratitude the volunteers and the NTFFRA has for everyone who has stepped up to assist – you are all pure gold. We cannot call this a wrap yet, but know that in the days to come the number of our human and animal guests will eventually number zero. With evacuation orders and alerts starting to be rescinded we are seeing more and more of our livestock charges able to return home. Some have no home to return to – but their human caregivers will rebuild and life will go on. We wish them well, and will truly miss every one of them, both two and four-legged. Jill Hayward, president and facility manager, North Thompson Fall Fair & Rodeo Association, Barriere, B.C.