Still a bit in shock, Melody Garner-Skiba recalled the moment she returned home to her parents ranch Tuesday morning and saw what little was left.
“When I came across that hill and I saw our ranch of so many generations burnt to the ground, you can’t imagine the horror you feel when your childhood home and all the work, blood, sweat and tears the generations before you did [is] burnt to the ground,” she said through tears.
“I don’t wish anybody to experience that but we are lucky, we are lucky and that’s what we need to remember,” she added.
The Garner family owns and operates The Rocking Heart Ranch, located along the east boundary of Waterton Lakes National Park.
Jim Garner, Melody’s father, said in just an instant it was all gone.
“The flames were 100 yards from our ranch when I left – 100 yards, not a mile, 100 yards – that’s why we had to get out.”
Garner was helping a friend down the road when they told him the fire was coming.
Watch below: Amateur video shows crews fighting the devastating Kenow Mountain wildfire burning in Waterton Lakes National Park.
“They said the fire is at the park gates and I said it can’t be, Parks [Canada] just sent information that it’s at Cameron Lake,” Jim Garner said. “Little did we know, there was another fire going on. Nobody told us. As we are coming back, I see the wall of fire by our ranch.”
They were starting to get their possessions together when they were told they needed to evacuate immediately. With so little time they had to leave behind their horses.
“Twenty minutes to leave our ranch,” he said. “We’ve got 50 years of memory in there. We moved here 31 years ago. I finished taking care of my parents in this home, finished raising my children – my grandchildren have all experienced this. You don’t replace that.”
All of the Garners’ horses – 100 in total – survived the fire and no one was hurt, but underneath that relief is frustration. It’s left Garner wondering how the fire got so close before they were notified.
“I want to compliment the men that are in the field fighting the fires,” Jim Garner said. “I will compliment them, I won’t even comment on the others. I believe we need to have a public inquiry called by the premier immediately as to this fire and as to how it got out of control like this.”
The Garners have had an outpouring of support. Friends, clients and neighbours have all offered help.
Rocking Heart Ranch hosts a colt starting challenge every year. It’s scheduled for this weekend and the family says it will go ahead regardless of the damage done by the wildfires.
“The agriculture community is strong and has rallied around us,” Jim Garner said. “These trainers have put countless hours, time and effort in, and you know what? The only way to rebuild is to keep moving forward, so that’s what we have decided to do.”
The Garners have moved the bulk of their broodmares to lease land pasture with good water and grass. They have moved the rest of the horses to family members’ property near Lethbridge.
“We lost our feed yard – 500 hay bales – so we will be looking for pasture to get them through the winter, but we will figure it out, that’s what we do,” Garner- Skiba added.
The Rocking Heart Ranch also lost their arena, barn and most of the corrals and fencing is ruined, however, the family said it won’t stop them.
“It’s a sad state of affairs but we are here and we will build again,” Jim Garner said.
The family will be posting updates about the colt challenge and their rebuild on Facebook.
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