'It's a big family': Albertans give gift of hay to B.C. ranchers hit by wildfire

Some Albertans are coming to the rescue of ranchers in B.C. who lost much of their land in this summer's wildfires.

Second truckload of donated animal feed from Alberta headed to B.C.

Barry Williams, left, Lauren Dorion, centre, and Garth Cleveland, right, stand next to a shipment of hay bales donated to B.C. ranchers by Albertans. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Some Albertans are coming to the rescue of ranchers in B.C. who lost much of their land in this summer's wildfires. 

On Thursday, a truckload of Alberta hay bales headed out to the Riske Creek community near Williams Lake. 

A second truckload left for B.C. on Saturday and Lauren Dorion, horse manager at the Black Diamond Land & Cattle Company about 50 km south of Calgary, said she came up with the idea to donate after seeing ranchers in B.C. struggling to feed their animals.

"Most of them are working day and night regardless of these fires still," Dorion said. "So to then organize feed for your animals and try to get all that taken care of is just a really hard thing for them to do right now."

Dorion's sister Kaitlyn Dorion is a farmer in Riske Creek and says the donations will help families left with nothing to feed their livestock.

"We don't have pastures, we don't have any graze land for our animals anymore … so the hay coming from Alberta is really, really, really appreciated right now," Kaitlyn said.

Thousands of animals affected

Lauren Dorion said news of her charity grain drive spread to Alberta ranchers by word of mouth. Soon, 24 large hay bales and 275 bags of grain were sent west in two shipments.

A number of Calgary companies lent equipment and personnel to the endeavour, including a donated driver and truck from Calfrac Well Services Ltd., a trailer from Trailer Wizards and 12 custom-built straps from Canyon Rigging.

Kaitlyn Dorion, a farmer in Riske Creek, B.C., says there are thousands of head of livestock threatened after wildfires swept through the area. (Supplied/Kaitlyn Dorion)

"We're really lucky out here in Alberta, we have a lot of really generous people and ranches and a lot of hay to donate," Lauren Dorion said.

Kaitlyn Dorion said thousands of cattle and horses in the Riske Creek area are without food but the donations will go to those hit hardest by the fire.

She had her own run-in with the wildfires, which came dangerously close to her home on the day of her wedding, forcing her to cancel her nuptials until a later date.

Lauren said the first shipment was donated to five families and the second shipment will help at least another 10 families.

Coming together

Barry Williams is the driver making the 24-hour round trip into B.C. and said the area around Williams Lake looks "post-apocalyptic."

"Everything was grey and dark and black. All the trees and all the grass was completely burnt," Williams said. "It looked like grey and black sand everywhere all through the hills coming up past Cache Creek all the way up to Williams Lake."

Williams said there were "lot of hugs" and "a lot of handshakes" when he delivered the first shipment.

Flames rage around Williams Lake during the 2017 wildfires. (Supplied/Kaitlyn Dorion)

Lauren Dorion said there aren't any plans for a third shipment but that could change if B.C. ranchers continue to struggle.

Garth Cleveland helped manage the logistics of the donations and said many B.C. ranchers were forced to let their animals loose as the wildfires got closer to homesteads.

Cleveland said farming communities band together when times get tough and he expects the donated feed will help wayward animals if they return to their burned-out pastures.

And he said if the roles were reversed, other farmers would help Alberta out too.

"It may not be you this year, but we've had droughts around here where there's not enough hay and people have donated hay into Alberta," Cleveland said. "It's a big family, really."

With files from Kate Adach