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Merritt, B.C., ranchers still recovering from triple natural disaster

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First, it was a wildfire.

Then came the catastrophic floods.

And then, their properties were hit by a massive mudslide.

A Merritt rancher and her neighbours have faced three natural disasters in a little over a year.

“It took us a lifetime to build (our ranch) and 373 days to destroy it,” said Rhonda MacDonald of Bar FX Ranch. She lost 37 cattle in the Lytton Creek wildfire in 2021. Last November’s catastrophic floods cost her seven acres of land.

She said the most recent disaster happened Aug. 23, when a rainstorm triggered a mudslide on a mountain, pushing tonnes of debris onto five properties below.

“There were boulders that came down and massive, massive trees,” MacDonald said.

Security camera video captures some of the mudslide.

MacDonald was home alone at the time.

“I didn’t have time to be scared. Everything happened really fast,” she said.

The slide destroyed fencing and buried their hay field. MacDonald says debris still covers about 20 acres of their ranch. In places, the mud is more than a metre deep.

“If it’s only the mud, it might not have been such a hard thing to deal with, but it’s three- and four-foot boulders, it's logs, it’s equipment we had stored up the hill,” she explained.

MacDonald and her neighbours want provincial help to clear debris so they can farm again.

The BC Liberal agriculture critic thinks they should get it.

Delta South MLA Ian Paton said only a fraction of the money committed for disaster financial relief in B.C. after the floods has been handed out. He said some of that money should help MacDonald and her neighbours.

“Why are they holding back on people that desperately need that money and aren’t getting it?” he asked.

In an email, Emergency Management B.C. told CTV News: “We understand this has been an extremely challenging year for people who have experienced wildfires, flooding and mudslides.”

But the statement goes on to say that neither land damage nor debris removal is eligible for financial assistance.

“EMBC is connecting with (non-government organizations) to find out if they may be able to provide support to people affected by this mudslide,” the email reads.

Paton also said the province needs to move faster in replanting forests wiped out by fires or there will be more mudslides.

“The forest fires, it leaves almost like a film, like the crust on a creme brulee desert, so when the rain hits in great amounts, there’s nothing to soak into soil in the side of that mountain,” he said.

The Ministry of Forests said in an email that “fire guard rehabilitation has been completed on the Lytton Creek wildfire," as has a post-wildfire natural hazard risk assessment.

However, the email is not clear if that work includes the mountainside where the flood occurred.

The ministry also said that replanting areas ravaged by both wildfire and pests is “essential to our fight against climate change and rebuilding forest health.”

The ministry said that since 2018, the province has planted more than 1 billion trees in its reforestation efforts.

Meanwhile, MacDonald said she doesn’t want to give-up her ranch, but that she and her neighbours need the province to step in. 

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