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Ranchers race against raging wildfire to save cows, land

Three massive fires are burning around a third-generation ranch, threatening not only their land but also their cattle.

SAVONA -- A historic ranch in Savona, B.C., where three generations of ranchers have worked, is being threatened by three massive wildfires. 

Indian Gardens Ranch has been in the Haywood-Farmer family since 1933, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the ranchers themselves.

Every morning, Chris Haywood-Farmer wakes up at 3 a.m., gets his horses ready, loads them into a trailer and quickly scarfs down some breakfast before racing right into the threat. 

“All three fires are affecting us pretty heavily on our daily life,” says Haywood-Farmer.

With the help of a family friend, he rides out to the pastures to see how much the wildfires have grown. 

Currently, the Tremont Creek wildfire is burning their west pasture and is more than 30,000 hectares. To the north pasture is the Sparks Lake wildfire at 68,511 hectares. Meanwhile, the Durand Lake wildfire (289 hectares) has burned their south pasture. 

“My biggest concern is the well-being and safety of the animals. That is our number one concern. ... It’s a bit stressful. There’s been a lot of early starts, long days,” he says. “It’s still... uneasy.”  

On horseback, Haywood-Farmer finds his cows and moves them away from the flames.

"We were out in a unit today and between our place and my cousin's place we have just about 900 animals out there. We just got around 400 momma cows today so I guess that is close to 800 animals we pushed. There's still quite a bunch that are out there so we’ll be going out back out tomorrow morning... and hopefully we aren’t too late.” 

Jody LeBlond has known Haywood-Farmer since he was in diapers and has worked at the ranch most of his life. 

“Today, we are moving cattle away from where the fire is supposed to be. Hopefully, it’s the right decision,” he says. "We were chasing them through the fire at one point.”

LeBlond was evacuated from his home in Deadman Creek after the Sparks Lake wildfire forced an order back at the beginning of July. 

“Right now, the cows are moving onto the grass they would be using in October and November,” he says.

He explains how normally, the animals would go in a circle and come back down to home. 

"If this fire keeps going, they’ll be coming home and that hay that we’re making will be feeding to the cows," says LeBlond.

Haywood-Farmer’s ranching roots run deep. His father, David Haywood-Farmer, is that past president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association.

“Family has been up this valley for a long time, three generations,” Haywood-Farmer tells Glacier Media.

His family has never experienced a fire season quite like 2021.

“This is a first and it’s pretty overwhelming with having three range units and all three of them being burned at the same time,” he says. 

His brother is a municipal firefighter and helped protect the property on the ranch, should the fire crawl closer.

“The ranchers are out there busting their butts, out there early in the morning to get their animals out of the way and we are doing the best we can to try and save as much as we possibly can.”