Cloverdale resident Leslie McKellar doesn’t think her community is doing enough to help with the fires that are raging across B.C.’s interior.
“Everyone’s so bloody complacent,” she said. “I guess I’m pretty well driven to help people out and it just drives me up the wall.”
McKellar has been involved in volunteer efforts for the 2016 Fort McMurray fire, through the B.C. Wildfire Evacuation Support Group. As of late, she’s been working 20-hour days of late, as she did during the Fort McMurray fires.
This time around, McKellar is focusing on helping the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team (CDART), a national organization that mobilizes in times of disaster to help Canadian pets and livestock, as well as other animal evacuation teams.
“They’re just going absolutely wild and they’re screaming and screaming for horse trailers, cattle trailers, and things like that,” she said. “And I haven’t seen too much happening from the Lower Mainland.”
Specifically, she said she hasn’t seen much help from Cloverdale, although she has friends in Langley who are helping out.
There is at least one local business that’s stepping up to help. On July 10, the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Grounds announced they would be opening up the exhibition grounds to fire evacuees from across B.C., offering free RV hookups and animal stalls.
According to general manager Mike MacSorley, the move was “the right thing to do.”
“It’s as simple as that,” MacSorley said. “We have space, we have a place where we can haul animals. It’s the right thing to do.”
The Cloverdale Rodeo is offering camping space for evacuees, as well as space for livestock and horses.
MacSorley said that has been one serious inquiry into the space, and they don’t know how many people will take advantage of the Rodeo’s offer.
Earlier on July 10, McKellar had sent what she calls a “scathing email” to MacSorley about the Rodeo’s lack of effort in supporting fire evacuees.
“I’m seeing everybody else around British Columbia, all the fairgrounds and the rodeo places … they’ve all opened up their facilities,” she said. “And I’m saying, ‘Wait a minute, has [the Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Grounds] done that out here?’”
In her email, she said she was “pretty disappointed” in the Rodeo’s lack of action. Several hours later, she said, the Cloverdale Rodeo published a notice saying they were opening up their facilities.
MacSorley said he hadn’t received McKellar’s letter, but it may have had an impact the decision to open up the rodeo space to evacuees.
McKellar and MacSorley spoke after their respective interviews with the Cloverdale Reporter. MacSorley had asked for McKellar’s phone number so he could discuss her idea of storing feed on the Rodeo grounds.
In a Facebook message to the Cloverdale Reporter, McKellar said MacSorley offered space, but only for short terms. McKellar would need to bring in the feed one day and move it out the next, which she said would be a logistical nightmare.
In a later phone call with the Cloverdale Reporter, MacSorley said he had told McKellar she could leave her feed there, but didn’t want the grain to be dropped off with no plan to have it moved. He also said he blocked off an area for her to leave feed, but has not heard from her since their phone call on July 11.
Animal feed has been one of McKellar’s priorities during these fires.
Due to the severity of the wildfires, McKellar said, those that have taken on livestock are low on feed. McKellar has located a few barns who are able to donate feed, and has secured donations of bales of hay for cattle and horses.
“These fires have absolutely devastated the capability of growing hay and all other feed sources and will take a long time for the land to be able to start growing again,” said McKellar.
McKellar currently has two barns full of fodder, one in Cloverdale and one in Fort Langley, and has more donations coming. She’s asking for volunteers to help her empty those barns.
“I am a retired old broad and I have not been to the gym for awhile,” the 63-year-old McKellar said. “So I am not of much use.”
Anyone who is interested in donating time, feed or space for livestock is encouraged to visit the B.C.’s Emergency Livestock Animal Evacuation Facebook group. On there, McKellar said, interested residents can connect with other volunteers to deliver feed, provide shelter for animals, or donate money and supplies.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly states that Leslie McKellar had been involved volunteer groups during the Slave Lake fire. That information has been corrected.