Locals working around the clock to defend their land from B.C. wildfires

CAROL HARRINGTON

SQUAM VALLEY, B.C. (CP) - Ranchers and loggers in this rugged forested area are building fireguards and soaking their houses, desperately defending their land from a nearby raging wildfire.

Tears welled up in Donna Margan's eyes as she watched 75-metre flames stand above tall dry trees approaching her acreage. "I just keep hoping for the best," said Morgan, who was forced to leave her mobile home about 60 kilometres northeast of Kamloops after officials issued an evacuation order for the area.

"I've lived here for almost 25 years and I can't imagine living anywhere else," she said as she watched the blaze lick the forest about one kilometre from her house.

Since leaving her home, Morgan has been busy making peanut butter and jam sandwiches in a neighbour's garage for locals who are working around the clock, taking prevention measures to protect their property and livestock.

They are busy relocating livestock, installing sprinklers on roof tops, spraying brush with fire retardant and knocking down trees to build fireguards near and around their homes.

Even those who have lost their homes are helping fight fires.

In his 23 years, Shawn Farrow has had two homes charred by fires - once when he was nine, and last Friday night, when a wildfire ravaged a trailer park in his nearby village of Louis Creek.

Returning to his home village Saturday, Farrow was shocked to see the black earth and scorched homes and trailers that have melted into piles of ashes.

"The only thing that didn't get torched is my cedar chair," he said, rolling a video that he took as evidence. "And look, it's bone dry and was left in perfect shape."

Putting aside his personal loss, Farrow is now helping ranchers build lengthy fireguards, dragging logs from the bush with a skidder.

Running on adrenaline and little sleep, Ross Huber has been busy running a skidder with a 1,300-litre water tank, building a fireguard on pasture land.

"There are lots of locals who want to help," said Huber, a rancher who stopped working to devour a couple of peanut butter sandwiches.

"We're just figuring out where help is needed to try to slow this fire down."

Many of the self-assigned firefighting crews are frustrated that they have not had any assistance from the province. They bitterly point out that they haven't seen any of the 700 firefighters who have been fighting the wildfires, and periodically see a helicopter pass by with an empty water bucket.

"We've got to do this work ourselves because nobody else is going to do it," said Leo Huber, after making a firewall by digging a swath of sand with a skidder near his cattle ranch.

"It's really, really frustrating."

Provincial Emergency Program officials have said that firefighters and aerial water bombers have been concentrating most of their efforts at Barriere, 50 kilometres northeast of Kamloops, where fire has surrounded the entire town.

Steve Mosdell, a logger who owns an acreage next to Huber, said he understands that crews are working to protect the densely populated towns, but it's little comfort for those in rural areas.

"If we just sat back and let them do things, we'd be burned out."

The Canadian Press, 2003

08/4/2003 17:44 EST