When the Flat Lake fire struck last week, Chani Dickson and her parents got moving, adding sprinklers, big water tubs and generators around their 320-acre Bishop Meadow Ranch on Bullock Lake Road.
On Tuesday morning Dickson went to work thinking they were in the clear. She came home to find the fire almost knocking at their door.
“The fire moved, it just blew up. We could see it across the lake, billowing,” Dickson, 27, said. “You could hear it roaring across the lake, it was pluming everywhere. It sounded like a jet, that’s what freaked us out. We didn’t really know what was happening.”
Her family called BC Wildfire, who told them to “get the heck out of there,” Dickson recalled.
Along with her parents Leslie Dickson and David Cunningham, she started packing a travel trailer with essential papers, photos, clothes. Leslie loaded up food and water. They planned to leave the trailer with a friend and come back to wet down the property. But when her uncle arrived with the horse trailer, they realized it was now or never.
“It was moving fast. It was dark and you could just see the sky glowing red,” Dickson said. “That was really scary.”
Cunningham employed his three water trucks, which they filled up and started using to wet the buildings and barns around the family ranch where he and his brothers had grown up. One of their neighbours left but another stayed, joining a crew of close friends and family who kept refilling and soaking the land around them. They worked all night, fueled on shock and adrenaline.
“We just watched the fire come up and over,” Dickson said.
On Wednesday morning, the Cariboo Regional District issued an evacuation order for 1,074 properties from Flat Lake to Green Lake North. By early afternoon, BC Wildfire “swooped in right beside us,” Dickson said. “All of a sudden it was a miracle, we had air help,” she said. “They started bombing the heck out of it.”
At the same time, Cunningham, with the help of family and friends, used a Caterpillar to build a fireguard around the property. But the fire, which has proven so challenging that ground crews are unable to fight it, kept growing, “creeping up behind and around the ranch with strong, unfavourable winds forecasted,” Dickson said.
As of Friday, July 16, it was estimated at 14,000 hectares. The CRD issued an expanded evacuation alert: this time for an additional 18 parcels in the Flat Lake North area “because of the potential danger to life and health.” Alerts were already in place for all of 100 Mile, Horse Lake and Sheridan Lake and parts of Lone Butte – just 27 kilometres away.
“It’s really grown into a monster fire,” Dickson said. “It feels like Mars. Everything is red and burnt and there are bombers going out overhead. It’s like a war zone.”
Dickson, who lives in a cabin on the property while her parents are in the main house, said the fire is now in a U shape around them, with smoke hanging heavy in the air. They plan to stick it out until they absolutely have to leave and hope the road out is still passable when they do. They will take their two horses but will have to leave their 50 head of cattle on the ranch and 200 more on the range nearby.
Dickson said going into town for groceries and diesel and other supplies is scarier than being on the ranch, where she can see what is going on.
She is grateful to BC Wildfire, which “helped save our ranch” at the outset and continues to drop water and put sprinklers on all of the buildings to create a humidity shield. She also credited their close family and friends, who worked so hard to soak the ranch in the early hours of the fire. Some 20 people – friends and family and community members – are still helping out the family, taking turns at night on “spark watch.”
But, she added, they aren’t out of the clear yet. Environment Canada has forecast rain, with the risk of a thunderstorm overnight.
“It’s like a big U, coming up all around us,” she said. “Even when you’re sleeping you’re right in the fire. There’s so much fuel out there.”