Farm & Garden | Fraserbench Farm: Standing firm during fires

By LeRae Haynes –

Wildfires definitely had an impact on local farmers and ranchers, including Lynda Archibald and Charlie Brous from Fraserbench Farm, located halfway between Soda Creek and McAllister. They grow and sell produce and products from their orchard and garden, and are members of the Cariboo Growers Market.

Harvest has arrived at Fraserbench Farm for Lynda Archibald and Charlie Brous Photo: LeRae Haynes

Harvest has arrived at Fraserbench Farm for Lynda Archibald and Charlie Brous Photo: LeRae Haynes

Although they have harvested onions, garlic, raspberries, peas, and some potatoes, some things are delayed in ripening and some may not produce at all.

“There’s been a real delay in the garden because of the lack of sunlight due to smoke in the air,” said Archibald. “It’s been warm, but no light. Everything was so dim and I think that’s what set the ripening process back. Things like zucchini and other squash ceased to form fruit with no sunlight.”

The freezer is stuffed with raspberries harvested during the wildfires. “We couldn’t sell them because we were stranded out here,” she said. “Luckily the power stayed on.”

She said they saw smoke to the northwest at 4:30 p.m. on July 7. “We heard a couple of thunder claps, and some lightning went through,” she added. “Then we started hearing about fires popping up around Hanceville and Stone Reserve.”

The day before, Vern Winger from Water Tec was at Fraserbench helping test a new sprinkler.“Charlie had just finished installing a water irrigation system in the field, and Vern brought out a mini sprinkler,” she continued. “We were able to use that during the next few weeks to sprinkle across the north side of the property.”

The Mountain House fire kept multiplying, and she said they heard about fires at Fox Mountain, Wildwood, the airport, and Soda Creek.

“We also kept hearing hassles that ranchers were having in getting out to see if their cattle were okay,” she said.
“When the Soda Creek fire broke out, we had people calling us to make sure we were safe. We didn’t feel in any imminent danger; we realized the fire was at the trestle, 10km away.”

“The last train went through here on July 8, and after that it was really quiet,” she explained. “Neighbours looked out for each other. Our neighbours at Mackin Creek across from us watched the ridge behind us and we watched the ridge behind them.”

By July 12, it was incredibly smoky at Fraserbench. “We were picking raspberries and it was very hot. My normal picking crew couldn’t make because of the fires. A friend came to help Charlie and me, and we got them all picked and frozen, along with the peas,” she stated.

She said their evacuation order came in on July 17. “Communication about what was happening was very difficult. We found the MODIS maps the best to try to keep track of the picture of what was going on.

“We had signed up for CRD notices, but the initial evacuation alert that came in by phone had such terrible audio, we couldn’t understand a single word.

“By the time the evacuation order came in we were locked down—unable to leave the area and return. We made the decision to stay. We seemed to be able to live with the smoke; it was not causing us problems. And we had a plan.”

Plan A was to take their loaded-up RV to Dunlevey Ranch down the road, and park it in the middle of a green hayfield.

“The rest of the neighbourhood was going to do the same. They would have made a wall of sprinkler water near their airstrip,” she said, adding that plan B was to take the RV and head north.

“We used the new sprinkler system to water the north side of the property. Charlie installed sprinkler guns on the fence, all around to the south, hooking them into the new irrigation system, which is powered by electricity,” she continued

“One of the problems Charlie had was getting parts to develop the fire fighting water system. He needed some parts, and could have ordered them – the phone worked – but there was no way of physically getting them.”

She said in some ways, life continued on as normal. “Because of the heat, watering the orchard and garden was a continuous job with limited water that meant we could only do so much at a time. We had to move it; it kept us busy,” she noted.

“Charlie was kept very busy with his fire fighting prep.”

Another thing that continued as normal was the contract Archibald has with Thompson Rivers University, maintaining online course content for the Sustainable Ranching Program.

“Even though the school was closed, I continued to do that, and student accessed their courses from afar,” she said. “Everything went week to week and day to day.

She said at Fraserbench they kept up a vigilant awareness—always looking at the hillsides and the weather, listening for the phone and checking the internet, MODIS maps, and emails.

There was a worry about what they were going to do with all the garden produce they were harvesting, but with no Growers Market, they did a lot of pickling.

“The only thing we started to run out of was fresh dairy; everything else was sufficient,” she said. “On July 20, the sky turned black and dismal, and it poured 22ml of rain in 15 minutes with no lightning.”

Overall, communication regarding the wildfires could have been a lot better, she added. “Facebook helped. MODIS maps and the phone helped. But better factual communication would have been better. When the fires were so obvious, I see keeping the public out of areas. But once the orders were softened, it was very unclear where you were allowed to go, unless you stumbled across a roadblock. Lots of time was wasted driving around trying to get from point A to point B,” she continued.

“What bothered us were the stories where you knew there was some truth, third hand, from the grapevine about ranchers not being allowed to go out onto their range and open gates to free animals that might be fleeing.”

Another real concern is Cariboo Growers Market’s survival, according to Archibald, who is the treasurer. She said the loss of a month’s income is a real financial hardship.

Brous said a huge thank you goes out to the businesses that brought in fire fighting equipment to help, adding that residents in outlying areas didn’t hear about it until later, and that it would have been impossible to get into town to pick it up.

“If you choose to stay home during an evacuation, you must accept the fact that you’re totally on your own, and you have no right to complain if you don’t receive your $600,” said Archibald.

“If you choose to stay, you cannot expect help, whether it’s medical, food, or money.”

“Now that the fires have lessened, I think it would be a good idea to get neighbourhoods together and debrief—discuss what happened and talk about things that people did, suffered, or experienced. But first hand only. These small groups would record the meetings and choose a spokesperson,” she added.

“That spokesperson would meet with their CRD director, with their first-hand, recorded information, and then it would be up to that director to collate the information and take it to the CRD.

“If the CRD would take those suggestions and publish the information, making sure the public is aware, it would help weed out rumours and gossip.”

LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.

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