(Diane Dunaway/Facebook)

Ranchers stay behind to protect their homes from raging wildfires

A look at why those told to leave during an emergency decide to stay inside the evacuation zone

From their acreage at Soda Creek, Diane and Dave Dunaway have seen two nearby train derailments, lightning fires, grass fires and serious wildfires across the river – but not once did they evacuate their home.

The current wildfire situation, which has led to a state of emergency across the province, has been no different.

In a recent post on social media, Diane explained that the decision to stay is not one made on a whim, but backed by decades of sustainability and resilience that one must have in order to live on rural and remote properties. It’s simply called “country living,” she said.

RELATED: Skeleton city crew in Williams Lake keeping things going

“We’ve lived here for 26 plus years without fire protection, garbage or recycling pick-up, fibre optics, pizza delivery, nor reliable cell service,” Diane said. “Living in a somewhat remote location necessitates independence, self-reliance, and a sense of accountability.”

Even three years ago, when a raging wildfire came right up to their fence line, and burned 122 hectares over months of time, the pair remained put on the property in the community they’ve lived in for 26 years.

Diane and Dave’s decision to forego evacuating this and defend their property isn’t an uncommon decision in the Cariboo.

In fact, most ranchers in the area have stayed behind to protect their livelihood – a move that’s brought controversy and criticism.

RELATED: Riske Creek ranchers go it alone in fight against dangerous wildfire

The Dunaways and other neighbours – a minimum 2.5 km drive away – aren’t standing by passively and watching the fires, though.

“Neighbours have pieced together a comprehensive collection of fire fighting equipment from hoses, backpack tanks, and shovels to backhoes and truck-mounted tanks with high-powered pumps,” Diane said.

“We have an informal valley-wide spark watch in effect that includes calling our other neighbours across the river if we spot something they might not see coming from the hills above.”

Their preparedness includes plans for the worst-case scanrio and for the long haul – but also have emergency bags by the door if things become unsafe.

“Nearby Dunlevy Ranch has limitless gravity-fed irrigation water that doesn’t need electricity to gather pressure,” she said. “Our fallback plan is to park in the middle of a hay field and surround ourselves with sprinklers. And of course there’s the river.”

RELATED: Ranchers and volunteer fire departments fight wildfire north of Williams Lake

With a self-sustaining farm still running in full force – with a garden, honey bees and all – as well as freezers with generators and fuel for back up, Diane has one simple request: respect their decision to stay.

“We are not ‘defying’ evacuation orders; we are using our collective years of experience along with cooperation to survive. There’s nothing cavalier about our decision to stay home,” she said.

“In our estimation, at this time we feel safe and don’t feel that we’re endangering anyone.”

According to the BC Cattlemen’s Association, government agencies have taken a second look at working with the ranchers who remain on their properties.

The RCMP have not made any arrests of those who remained in evacuation zones. Legally, there’s nothing stopping those older than 18 from staying.

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