There can be unexpected problems trying to evacuate with animals when fire threatens, so Bebelman suggests you start planning now. Photo: Pam Malekow

Pass Creek farmers encouraged to plan ahead to save animals

Firesmart info session planned for Monday, June 24 at Pass Creek Community Hall

People who own farm animals along along the Pass Creek road probably aren’t prepared for the inevitable wildfire that’s heading their way — and its impact on their livestock.

“To be honest, I don’t think they are,” says Aaron Bebelman, the local fire chief. “They are aware there is that threat towards their animals, but the actual details of what to do, how to go about doing it, I don’t think we’ve educated them enough to get that out there yet.”

That’s why Bebelman — who’s also a wildfire mitigation specialist — and a co-worker with livestock evacuation experience are holding a meeting next Monday at the Pass Creek Community Hall.

They’ll be talking about ways of Firesmarting people’s homes in the area, both as individuals and as a community. And they’ll be talking about protecting livestock from harm’s way should a wildfire hit the valley.

The 2018 fire season saw huge herds of animals in the province’s central interior moved out of fire’s way. But the small farm operator — which comprise the majority of farms in Pass Creek — will be essentially on their own to ensure their animal’s safety.

And Bebelman says that means coming up with a plan.

“Right now we’re trying to push, if someone has livestock, they get hold of local riding clubs or livestock owners somewhere else in the region,” he says. “So if we have an incident in Pass Creek, maybe they’ve talked to people in Blewett about putting up their animals. The reverse could be true — if something happens in Blewett, we can take care of their animals there.

“Get out there, talk to your neighbours in the regional district and see if they have livestock or bigger farms.”

With a narrow, heavily forested valley, with one winding road in and out, the danger posed by wildfires in Pass Creek is pretty severe. That’s why it’s important for locals to plan ahead, says Bebelman.

And problems can crop up in your plans where you least expect them, he says.

“When’s the last time you had your horse in a trailer? Or any of your animals in a mobile trailer to move them? A lot of them have been there five, six years so it’s going to take a bit of time to get ‘Old Trusty’ back in the trailer and get him moving.

“When they do evacuate, you have to bring food and water for them, enough for three days if you could,” he says. “By then the [emergency operation centres], if we have them set up for this area, would have stuff happening as we go.”

But Bebelman also warns that small farmers — unless they meet the Revenue Canada definition of a farm — will have to pay their own upkeep of their animals.

Bebelman says Monday’s meeting will talk about these issues, but also familiarize people with Firesmart consultations.

He says the pilot Firesmart program operating in the area means locals can get a free assessment of their homes and property, their barns, as well as advice on their livestock.

He’s also hoping to set up a Community Champions project for the valley — getting a handful of community leaders who can look at the big picture of fire dangers in the neighbourhood, and gather work bees to address the most serious issues. He says it’s a good way to help those who may not be able to do the heavy Firesmart lifting themselves.

But the one thing he wants to do most is get people out of their complacency. Pass Creek, for whatever reason, has not taken advantage of the Firesmart program.

“It’s a tough group to get into. We’ve only done a handful of mitigations in last two years,” he says. “So it’d be nice to get the community to recognize there is a threat, and not to think just because we’re close to an airport with water bombers, that they are going to be available.”

Just the opposite is true, in fact.

“In a big event, the resources go up quick,” he says. “They may not be available for our region.”

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