B.C. man braves highway inferno to help evacuate family farm

Adrian Chivers has a lot of fond memories of his grandparents’ ranch near Lower Nicola, northwest of Merritt, where he has spent many happy hours since he was small.

So when Chivers, 24, began receiving voice mails and text messages from his uncle asking for help Sunday afternoon while on the way home to the Lower Mainland after a camping trip, he says he didn’t hesitate.

“I hadn’t even got home yet, just getting back into cell reception.” 

His uncle told him he needed to move his livestock and fast.

What Chivers didn’t expect as he drove up were the hundreds of trees ablaze along the Coquihalla Highway 

“One of the most extreme things I’ve seen — the flames burning the highway fences right there, 70 [or] 80-foot trees candling, entirely lit on fire. I could feel the heat overpowering me in the cabin of my truck… The flames were just so hot and everything was so engulfed.

“There was a patch of smoke after the fires that was so thick [that] you couldn’t see — it was almost like driving through the middle of the night with your lights off,” Chivers said Tuesday to Sarah Penton, the host of CBC’s Radio West

WATCH |  Adrian Chivers drives along Coquihalla Highway with trees on fire on both sides

Man felt scorching heat from trees burning on both sides of highway

Adrian Chivers drove the Coquihalla Highway on Sunday to help with evacuation of his family farm near Lower Nicola. 1:00

The Lytton wildfires prompted an evacuation order for properties near Lower Nicola over the weekend and forced the Coquihalla Highway to close between Hope and Merritt on Sunday night.

The highway reopened Tuesday morning.

His uncle had already moved his animals to a neighbour’s farm. But when that farm was also ordered evacuated, Chivers helped the family relocate the animals to Merritt’s rodeo grounds where he has been staying since Sunday.

Most of them made it, except for some chickens they were unable to round up and a frightened mare the family had kept for 11 years.

“[We were] trying to load her in the middle of the night with high winds and smoke in the air,” he said. “They [the horses] are used to roaming around on my grandma’s property, so being stuffed in a trailer in the middle of the night in a strange field was unfortunately too much for her.”

“She was very panicky because police lights in the back [were] driving along the roads and she hadn’t really been trailered much, so she reared up and flipped over backwards and hit her head and killed herself.”

The mare, left, of Adrian Chivers’s family ranch died after a fall during evacuation from Lower Nicola to Merritt on Sunday. (Submitted by Adrian Chivers)

Chivers said while his family is mourning the death of a family friend, they’re thankful their farmhouse, equipped with a sprinkler system survived and for the generosity of people in Lower Nicola and Merritt.

“Everybody’s been really amazing and helpful in the community,” he said. “If we can help others, we’re also trying to do the same, because you got to come together in a situation like this.”

Tap the link below to hear Adrian Chivers’s interview on Radio West:

Radio West8:12Adrian Chivers shares the story of racing past the flames on the coquihalla highway to help his family’s property in Merritt during an evacuation order

Adrian Chivers shares the story of racing past the flames on the Coquihalla Highway to help his family’s property in Merritt during an evacuation order. 8:12

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