Range land for mule deer, California bighorn sheep and cattle was burned by the Churn Creek Protected area wildfire when it flared up last week and now measures 6,978 hectares.
“I just flew over this morning and some good country got cooked,” said John Holmes of Empire Valley Ranch located south of the fire.
“Churn Flats hasn’t been spared – that’s where the migratory bighorn sheep graze and the mule deer have their winter range.”
Holmes told Black Press Media some of his ranch’s summer and fall range was burned, but so far the winter range is intact.
He is wondering, however, what will happen when the weather heats up this week.
Environment Canada’s forecast for the Cariboo indicates temperatures will increase to highs of 33C by Friday and Saturday.
The Churn Creek Protected area fire was first discovered on July 2, and caused by a lightning strike.
BC Wildfire Crews actioned the fire and it remained at about 1,500 hectares and quiet for three or four weeks until Wednesday, Aug. 4, when it flared up again.
“It burned six kilometres in 10 hours,” Holmes said. “It even jumped the road. A piece of a burning tree rolled down the hill a couple of 100 feet and got into the grass on the other side and it started to burn. It was a fluke.”
He said the timbered slope along the Fraser River is gone completely, although in a couple of years grass will probably grow back.
“We’ve seen with prescribed burns that it takes about three years to come back. It’s a dry area to begin with and this year it’s been windy and hot for three months with no rain.”
John and his wife Joyce Holmes have managed the ranch for 24 years and because it is within the Churn Creek Protected Area they lease land from BC Parks for their cow/calf operation and have a grazing tenure through the ministry of forests.
They are positioned west of the Fraser River and on the south side of Churn Creek.
Holmes said they will make up for the shortfall of summer and fall range as they have some options and in a couple of years will look forward to a rejuvenated range area.
“This is the result of 100 years of fire suppression,” he said of the reason the fire spread so quickly.
Nearby Gang Ranch, Canoe Creek and Dog Creek were put on evacuation alert Thursday, Aug. 5, but by Sunday, Aug. 8 the alert had been lifted.
Gang Ranch manager Larry Ramstad said the fire never crossed the canyon.
“It was monitored mostly from our side,” he told Black Press Media Monday. “We did have the structure protection people in from the Williams Lake Fire Dept. and all the buildings are protected here at the ranch.”
Rain started to fall on Saturday at noon, he added.
“It is really quiet over there now, so if everything continues we should be OK. It depends on what happens Thursday, Friday weather-wise.”
He attributed the fire’s restart to the conditions being just right.
“It was close to 40 and the wind was blowing. It did not take much to get it going again and once it did start it got to too much.”
BC Wildfire Service in its Aug. 9 update, said the fire continues to burn in a northwestern direction, but cooler temperatures and precipitation from the weekend helped lower fire behaviour.
Aerial assessments of the fire by the BCWS will continue daily.
More to come.