The Petal family of the Chilcotin are in a desperate fight to save their family ranch.
Located just west of Anaham Reserve, the ranch is home to Tony and Celina Petal, 83 and 80 years old, their sons Harvey and Gary and daughters Pearl, Wanda, Daphne and Rhoda.
“They will fight it with tractors, that’s all they have,” Rhoda said of her dad and brothers who stayed on the family ranch despite an order to evacuate to fight raging wildfires. Her mother already relocated to Williams Lake, while Rhoda and her sisters are assisting in any way they can and are back and forth.
“It’s is like a big ring of fire and we’re right in the middle of it.”
Rhoda is the exective assistant for the Yunesit’in First Nation (Stone), also in the evacuation zone.
She said more than 250 members have evacuated to Williams Lake, Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, Fletcher Lake and Prince George, while a few elders remain in the community, refusing to leave their homes.
“We are keeping an eye on them. We have Aaron Frank doing security for us and he checks in on them,” she said of the elders.
Her father and brothers, all longtime ranchers and respected rodeo competitors, also refuse to give in to the fire.
“My dad said ‘I’ve worked too hard all my life, I’m not about to lose it all now,” she said. “They are going to do everything they can to save it.”
As of Tuesday, the fire was only five kilometres away from the ranch, but travelling northeast.
However, another fire started up yesterday west of Tsi Del Del First Nation (Redstone), and is also travelling east, toward the ranch and Anaham Reserve, of which the family are members of.
At Anaham, Rhoda said members are using skidders and bulldozers to protect their community.
“They are making fire guards around everyone’s homes as we speak.”
Rhoda said the first fire started one km west of Anaham and has travelled to Beacher Dam, a distance of about 50 kms in three days.
Highway 20 is closed to westbound traffic, except for those with permits who are bringing in fuel, groceries and medical supplies to those inside the evacuation order.
Rhoda has been splitting her time working for Yunesit’in, which has moved its office to a temporary location in Williams Lake while its commuinty is under threat of wildfires, to assist evacuated members while also bringing in supplies to her dad and brothers, who are staying connected to each other by having wifi connected to a generator.
“My mind is all over the place right now,” she said.
She said her father has been on the ranch since he was just a teenage boy.
Seeing the Chicotin in the state it is in is “devastating.”
Via text messages, Harvey told the Tribune he is trying to stay positive.
“I’m just hoping it will go away.”
Harvey provides livestock for several rodeos, including the upcoming Billy Barker Days in Quesnel, which has been cancelled. The family has also hosted the annual Mother’s Day Timed Events at the ranch for many, many years.
He said the RCMP did come and tell them to leave their ranch.
“But (we) refused. I told them there are no fire fighters. We have a better chance to save our place if the winds shifts our way.”
Right now, he said his cattle at home are safe but he is worried about the ones on the range.
Rhoda was planning to head back to the ranch after work Tuesday, after trying to find some hay to buy for the cattle.