Tricia Thorpe and her husband were off helping others when they found out their small farm at Lytton, B.C., was at risk from a fire sweeping the community.
Four kilometres away, they had no indication the flames would make it to their property.
“We never imagined we were in any danger,” she said July 15, two weeks after the wildfire that destroyed nearly the entire community.
By the time they realized what was happening they couldn’t go back.
Thorpe said the Thompson Nicola Regional District would not let them in, even though it allowed a compost operation next door to evacuate its horses. The difference, she said, is that the compost business is commercial.
“Having two sets of rules is asinine,” Thorpe said.
Trained volunteer animal rescuers were ready to go in with feed and water and to get animals out but weren’t allowed. Firefighters were doing what they could to help the many animals left behind.
Thorpe had no idea what had happened to her sheep, goats, alpacas, guardian dogs and puppies, and several types of fowl. With the help of a British Columbia and Alberta emergency livestock Facebook group, she made a plan.
“I went rogue,” she said. “I showed up at a roadblock where I knew the media was and I put the police there between a rock and a hard place. I told them I wasn’t leaving until I got my animals out. I know they probably got into hot water but they got us an escort in.”
She and Don Glasgow found their property destroyed, all the chickens, peacocks, guinea hens, all six goats and five of eight sheep dead. Her four alpacas survived, as did three adult dogs, nine puppies and a cat, although the sire of the puppies died as they drove out.
“Our place was levelled, but we did manage to the get the sheep and alpacas out,” along with the dogs, she said.
Thorpe said she finds it hard to believe that rail lines could go in to work on destroyed ties but people couldn’t go in to check on their animals.
Even the B.C. SPCA wasn’t allowed in to round up pets until 12 days after the fire, and only for a four-hour window, she said.
Thorpe said it’s likely the shock of the situation hasn’t really set in yet, but she knows for sure that the policies that prevented people from saving their animals are unfair.
She knows that people lost cattle in the fire and had to put others down because of their injuries. A neighbour who grows hay for sale lost the crop and animals.
Thorpe and Glasgow are retired and lived where they could make cheese from the goats’ milk and spin wool from the sheep and alpaca fibre.
“Everybody had a job,” she said.
They and their remaining animals were staying with friends temporarily.
They had no insurance because they lived outside the fire district and used wood to heat their home but hope to rebuild their dream property. They’ve been told government help is unlikely because the incident was insurable.
The Facebook group continues to be active offering temporary quarters for animals and places to stay.
The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association said it will likely be fall before the full extent of damage and losses can be evaluated. Fires continue to rage across the province.