British Columbia

Clinton-area ranchers demand compensation for control fire devastation

A group of 40 Clinton-area ranchers and property owners is demanding compensation for damage caused by control fires that went "terribly wrong."

'We can't eat an apology. Apologies won't replace our livestock or what we've lost.'

A helicopter sets a control burn in the Hart Ridge area near Highway 97, south of Clinton. (Brett Walch)

A group of 40 Clinton-area ranchers and property owners is demanding compensation from the B.C. government for damage caused by controlled fires, which they say went "terribly wrong and led to untold losses of livestock and property."

In a press release, the group also asks that B.C. Wildfire Service leadership "start doing things differently," and communicate better with residents who are finding themselves and their livestock affected by control fires.

Wiped out by control fires

Spokesman and rancher Greg Nyman says some members of the group will be out of business if they don't get help.

"Some of us are going to be done unless extraordinary measures are taken to get us back on our feet," Nyman said.

A control fire ignited on Hart Ridge August 5. (Deb Heppner Beech)

"We want to be heard ... so people know how negatively we've been affected by, in our estimation, mistakes that they've made."

In the past week, crews have been conducting controlled burns along Hart Ridge south of Clinton in the B.C. Interior in an attempted to contain the Elephant Hill wildfire which is the second largest in the province at over 110,000 hectares. 

'They're still burning it'

Hart Ridge is also an important grazing area for ranchers in the area.

"Our range is burned so hard I'm not sure to what extent it will come back next year or if it will be able to support cattle at all.

"At this point it can't anyway because the fencing is all burned. And they're still burning it," Nyman said.

The B.C. Wildfire Service said it's aware of the Clinton ranchers' concerns and said they may qualify for compensation.

In an email, a spokesperson for the service said that under the Wildfire Act "people can be compensated for damage on private land for avoidable damaged caused by fire control by government.

"With regard to the Elephant Hill fire, staff have already reached out to the residents that issued [the] news release."

Nyman had 120 head of cattle on Hart Ridge. He said many of the animals have suffered burns from the wildfire and many may die from their injuries.

One of the worst problems for ranchers is that they have no access to their cattle which are now behind fire lines where range fences have been burned and gates left open.

Stock photo: Fires have burned through range land fences in the B.C. Interior and cattle have been seen wandering on roads as they try to escape fire and smoke. Greg Nyman says 15 of his herd were seen on Highway 97 Saturday but they were chased back into the fire zone. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"I'm trying to get them out," he said. "There's not much left up there ... and they plan on burning the entire [range] unit."

On Sunday, 15 of his cows were spotted in the Highway 97 corridor, but because the animals are a hazard to those travelling the road, they were chased back into the fire zone before he was able to round them up.

Later in the day, another control fire was ignited on the ridge.

In the dark

​In addition, Nyman said ranchers are kept in the dark about when and where authorities plan to ignite a control burn.

"They conduct these burns in almost secrecy," he said.

Firefighters watch as a helicopter drops a fire-starting device on Hart Ridge near Clinton, B.C. Local ranchers and property owners are asking for compensation for losses sustained in control fires set by B.C. Wildfire crews. (Brett Walch)

"We have a bit of a pipeline up and down the valley and we watch out for each other and keep an eye on things and that's the only way that we're finding out when a burn is happening, what area it's happening in and how they're lighting it up vis-a-vis drip torches or with a helicopter," he said.

Additionally, a control fire set on Hart Ridge August 1 is now burning out of control after being blown west across Highway 97, forcing the evacuation of over 100 properties.

"The fire on the west of 97 that they're responsible for — it's not even close to being contained, Nyman said.

"It's going to burn for a long time yet and it's going to put a lot more people on evacuation. The damage toll is increasing every day."

Nyman stressed that the group is not criticizing front line firefighters who he says are doing a phenomenal job. 

"It's the decisions made by the higher-ups that are affecting us the most," he said.

"At some point there has to be a reckoning. How much is a hectare of wild land or forest worth as opposed to a structure? They're great at protecting structural, but we're just taking a horrible toll on habitat, wildlife and forest.

"We can't eat an apology," he said. "Apologies won't replace our livestock or what we've lost. We're looking for compensation."