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B.C. farm threatened by wildfire battles to save 500 ostriches

'Five hundred ostriches are almost impossible to relocate,' says co-owner of farm
Ostrich farm 2
A GoFundMe campaign set up to help the farm has raised over $7,500 in less than 24 hours

A B.C. ostrich farm threatened by wildfire has received more than $7,500 to protect hundreds of animals. 

Universal Ostrich Farms Inc., located southeast of Vernon near Edgewood, B.C., is currently included in one of 50 evacuation orders across the province. 

The Michaud Creek wildfire has been classified as “out of control” and has prompted the evacuation of 95 per cent of the town, according to farm co-owner Karen Espersen.

“We can’t leave because of all the animals here,” says Espersen. “Five hundred ostriches are almost impossible to relocate.” 

“It’s not like herding cows.”

Strong winds are expected to lead to aggressive behaviour in the southern Interior today, and Espersen says crews are worried it will escalate to a class 6 fire, "where trees explode." 

Espersen is one of six people who stayed behind to guard the farm from the encroaching blaze. They've set up perimeters around sections of the 25-acre property, weed-whacked bush and wetted down the ground and buildings — even the hay in the barn has been soaked to minimize risks from a stray ember. 

But Espersen says they don’t have enough hose to wet down the entire perimeter of the farm, so they’ve moved the ostriches into three pens near some ponds. 

“We are all hunkering down in the middle of the birds,” she says. “We have three fire pumps.”

They are not alone.

When the highways in both directions were shut due to fire, Espersen says she panicked because they only had a few days of feed left.

That’s when a blasting and drilling company out of Kelowna stepped in, offering to drop ostrich feed and fire hoses by helicopter. 

“He said, 'I’m going to be straight up with you. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But we’re going to help you. Anything you need,'” says Espersen.

“It shows what a truly wonderful world we live in.”

Then the owner of a local store and gas station returned, pledging to keep the fuel coming in so they could keep the pumps running.

On Wednesday, Espersen’s niece started a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $10,000 to help her aunt defend the animals. By Thursday afternoon, it had surpassed $7,500.

“We do a lot of crying. As long as we’re not thinking, we’re strong people,” she says.

Espersen says they have been overwhelmed by the support and will use all the money for animal feed and anything to protect them from fire. 

At the same time, the farm is turning into a kind of ark for local animals left behind when other farmers fled. Espersen says she’s expecting the imminent arrival of four pigs, a cow and three horses.

“If we can get feed to your animals, we’re helping out,” she says.

“We’re not going anywhere.”

Stefan Labbé is a solutions journalist. That means he covers how people are responding to problems linked to climate change — from housing to energy and everything in between. Have a story idea? Get in touch. Email [email protected].