Alberta rancher heads south to help feed horses left homeless by California wildfire

Canadian ranchers head for northern California to help feed homeless horses struggling in aftermath of wildfires

'We're horse people and the horse community is rather small and rather tight'

Retired Alberta rancher Darrell Glover is driving to northern California on Monday to bring 6,800 kilos of hay to help feed some of the horses set free during the wildfires in the region. (Mike Symington CBC News)

A retired rancher from Olds, Alta. is heading to California with 6,800 kg — 15,000 lbs. — of feed, along with medical supplies to help more than 100 horses impacted by wildfires that have afflicted the region.

Darrell Glover saw a news reports of how horse owners in the Paradise area had no choice but to release their animals  to fend for themselves when wildfires descended upon northern California several weeks ago.

As a horseman himself, Glover said the stories were emotionally devastating.

"I've had my horses here — the oldest I have is 15 years — they're just like your kids," Glover said, in an interview with CBC Calgary.

"If you can imagine running from your house, and opening your gate, and letting your kids out to say 'fend for yourselves,' never knowing if you're ever going to see them again, that really hits an emotional chord with us.

"I would hate to ever have to experience anything like that myself, and there are hundreds and hundreds of people down there who have just going through exactly that."

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8. Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

Authorities say the death toll from the Camp Wildfire now sits at 84.

They also say the fire is 95 per cent contained. The blaze that started Nov. 8 levelled Paradise, Calif., destroying more than 13,000 homes.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office said more than 560 names remain on the missing list.

Authorities stressed that many of the people on the list may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

Paradise is about 225 kilometres north of San Francisco.

Social media campaign

Glover learned that a lot of horses were discovered running down highways, before ending up in the foothills, in a fairground close to Oroville, Cali., just south of Paradise.

More than 100 horses — Glover expects the total will swell to closer to 200 — are in temporary residence at the Camelot Equestrian Centre in Oroville.

That's when Glover and some fellow ranchers launched Help Alberta Wildies, a social media campaign to help out that produced donations from right across Canada, the U.S. and as far away as Germany.

"We took that cash that came in and yesterday we loaded up 300 sacks of hay cubes, which is a blend of Timothy and alfalfa — so we've got 15,000  pounds of feed going down," he said. 

"I'm leaving Monday with it. When I get down there, we'll probably be able to just about match that again."

'We're horse people'

Glover said there's a tight bond between horse ranchers, no matter where they live.

"We just can't imagine what it would be like to lose everything, your barn, your tack, your saddles — and still have a horse," he said.

He added that the reports he'd heard suggest the animals are in rough shape.

"The lady we saw on the broadcast last night — she used the word chaos — that's pretty much what it was like collecting all these animals and trying to figuring out where to put them and how to take care of them," he said.

"We understand a lot of the horses were injured, probably got close to the flames they obviously had nothing to eat because all their forage and grass was all burned.

"It's a pretty serious situation."

No return date

Glover expects to arrive in Oroville some time Wednesday afternoon.

He hasn't set a return date yet because he suspects they might need a few helping hands at the Camelot Equestrian Centre.

"We're horse people and the horse community is rather small and rather tight," he said.

"We understand how daunting the task is when you pick up 100 or 200 horses and they're running free."


With files from CBC Calgary

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca