“Burned to dust”: 1 month after the McDougall Creek fire, a long road to recovery

It’s been a month since the McDougall Creek wildfire ravaged West Kelowna, British Columbia, leaving a trail of destroyed homes and livelihoods in its wake.

Among those still reeling from the devastation is Jeff Findlay, a former RCMP officer who has operated a popular horse ranch in Bear Creek for nearly a decade.

“He was reduced to dust. It looks like Mars. Like a nuclear bomb had been dropped in there. Everything is dead,” Findlay said of his house, his barn and the 600 acres of land that Broken Rail Ranch rented for trail running.

“It’s my life…gone like that.”

Over the past month, Findlay has spent his days visiting the 20 horses he and his wife currently house in southeast Kelowna.

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The couple managed to save each horse, after following their instincts and beginning to evacuate the animals on the morning of August 18, before the fire ravaged the community.

“By the time we got the horses out, the fire engulfed the ridge. You could see it burning towards our houses, our neighborhood – there’s about 50 houses in there, I think 80 percent of them burned down,” he told PKBNEWS.

The couple spent two weeks living out of suitcases in a hotel room and are now doing the same from a friend’s house.

They were able to keep photos, some clothing and make a video recording of their belongings before having to flee.

But with the property and trails razed, the ranch will have to close shop. Findlay said he now has to sell the horses — which cost about $7,000 a month to maintain — to avoid bankruptcy.

“So our business is over. We currently support 20 horses without any income,” he said.

“It’s destructive. It’s terrible.”

Beyond the economic aspect, there is a personal cost.

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After 23 years in law enforcement, horses have provided Findlay with more than just a job.

“I retired from the police in 2015 with severe PTSD, and this place has been my sanctuary, it’s the place I grow up and recover from – you never recover from PTSD, but emotions become numb after a while. – and my horses do that for me,” he said.

“Horses have a way of getting emotions out of you…they have the ability to take trauma out of you.”

Amid the devastation, there are bright spots.

Findlay’s family organized a GoFundMe campaign, which raised much-needed funds to help care for the horses.

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And the community was quick to offer support during and after the disaster.

Strangers offered them accommodation. Community members with horse trailers stepped up to help evacuate the horses, without ever asking for financial compensation.

“It’s amazing the amount of outpouring of love and kindness we receive. It’s just fantastic, it really shows the true nature of people,” he told PKBNEWS.

“In my 23 years as a police officer, I’ve lost faith in the human race, but man, I tell you, the human race can be pretty damn good too.”

The fire also spared the ranch’s beloved pig, Poomba, who has become something of a social media celebrity since the fire.

“She was sitting in our pen, the lower pen, and I swear Mother Nature came in and said, ‘Not the pig,’ because there was an eye of a hurricane there that burned around her ” he said, adding that the pig could have “Jedi powers.”

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“The helicopter came in and dropped granola bars on him because no one could get in, so…the first meal was a helicopter dropping granola bars. »

Poomba escaped with second-degree burns, but unfortunately her sister, Miss Wilbur, did not survive the fire.

As the couple begins the difficult task of selling their horses, Findlay said he plans to keep at least a few of the animals he has formed personal bonds with, including his number one, Admiral.

He also thinks about what rebuilding his life after the fire might look like.

“I want to come back,” he said.

“People are traumatized, so I kind of think my next path might be equine therapy, something like that.”

About 200 homes were reported destroyed by a wildfire in the West Kelowna and Kelowna area, and as of Monday, nearly 400 properties remained under evacuation orders in the area.

The McDougall Creek wildfire was last mapped at just under 14,000 hectares and remains listed as out of control.

&copy 2023 PKBNEWS, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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