British Columbia

Cariboo couple defies wildfire evacuation order to protect ostrich flock

A B.C. couple is opting to stay with their flock of ostriches instead of leaving their home as wildfires rage in the area.

Owners of Ostrich Feather B&B say it would be nearly impossible to safely transport the giant birds

Some of the ostriches kept at the Ostrich Feather B&B in Lone Butte, B.C. (Jordan Tucker)

A couple whose property near 100 Mile House, B.C., is under evacuation order due to the threat of a nearby wildfire is choosing to stay home to protect their animals — which happen to be a flock of ostriches. 

Gerbi Beukeboom, who owns Ostrich Feather B&B with her husband Marko, immediately knew they would not leave when the evacuation order was issued last Wednesday.

"We have a big family here, with birds, of course. We have about 25 big birds and a couple little ones," Gerbi Beukeboom said from her farm in the community of Lone Butte, 20 kilometres southeast of 100 Mile House along Highway 24.

"We can't just leave the birds behind. That's the last thing we're going to do." 

The evacuation order is still in effect for the area as hundreds of wildfires ravage the province, putting many British Columbians on high alert and ready to flee their properties at a moment's notice.

But Beukeboom says her situation is different because of the ostriches. She says the birds don't like confined spaces and can get aggressive, making it difficult to transport them.

She says it would be nearly impossible to load them into a truck because they would kick and fight in protest. 

Even if they were able to load them into a trailer, the couple fears the birds could critically injure one another while fighting in a small space. They would need to take at least four trips in order to transport the dominant ostriches separately, Beukeboom said. 

Aside from that, the couple are currently incubating roughly 60 eggs which are ready to hatch any day, and they also pose a challenge for transportation.

Abandoning the birds is a potentially costly proposition. The couple estimate each bird is worth between $500 and $7,000, with a collective price tag of nearly $50,000.

"[It's] gonna be a financial disaster …  it's just the last thing I want to think about," said Beukeboom. 

Marko Beukeboom with some young ostriches. (Jordan Tucker)

The Beukebooms are not the only people sticking around to look after their livestock, according to Albert Smith.

Smith is one of several security guards hired by the Cariboo Regional District, which includes Lone Butte, to patrol evacuation zones in an effort to help ease the minds of people leaving their properties behind.

In 2017, at least 10 people were arrested in Burns Lake and 100 Mile House in connection with looting during wildfire evacuations. 

Smith understands how difficult it can be to leave animals behind. 

"People get really attached to their animals," said Smith. "I think it's impossible. If you have any feelings at all, you're not going to leave the animals unless you can take them with you." 

Ostrich Feather B&B is under an evacuation order due to raging wildfires in the area. (Jordan Tucker)

As long as the highways stay open and they are able to get out if they need to, the Beukebooms say they feel safe. 

Their firefighter son, who is on the front lines tackling B.C. wildfires, calls his parents with updates when he can and they watch the weather, carefully tracking the wind that will determine their fate. 

Beukeboom said they have a plan in place if they need to move the birds, but it will be stressful for them and the ostriches. 

"We take everything day by day and keep our fingers crossed," she said.

LISTEN | Gerbi Beukeboom discusses looking after her ostriches:

With files from Jordan Tucker