In this Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 file photo provided by the National Park Service, people walk along the shore near Lake McDonald Lodge as the Howe Ridge Fire burns in Glacier National Park, Mont. Wildfires that have kept portions of Glacier National Park closed for two weeks are scrambling visitors’ plans and prompting some to cancel their trips. Much of Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun-Road has been closed since August 12 due to a fire that’s burned more than 19 square miles (50 square kilometers). (National Park Service via AP, File)

‘We will rise from those ashes:’ Ranch still rebuilding two years after wildfire

Wildfire raged into Waterton Lakes National Park in southeastern Alberta two years ago

Melody Garner-Skiba and her family have had some tough conversations since a wildfire raged into Waterton Lakes National Park in southeastern Alberta two years ago, spread into nearby grassland and destroyed their horse-breeding ranch.

“It’s definitely taken a toll on our family, but we’re strong and we’re perservering,” said Garner-Skiba, who lived at the Rocking Heart Ranch just outside Waterton with her husband before the fire.

“It’s been the most challenging and demanding and probably stressful years that we’ve ever faced on our ranch.”

None of the 100 horses on the ranch was hurt, but the fire destroyed nearly everything else, including priceless family keepsakes and hunting trophies belonging to her father, former Saskatchewan politician Jim Garner.

“I never expected to see a site that looked like a war zone and how catastrophic it was,” Garner-Skiba recalled. ”Those images of the smouldering ashes will forever be implanted in our brains.”

The family has had some frank discussions about the ranch’s future, and what they can and can’t afford to rebuild. Garner-Skiba figures that their insurance payout came in $1 million short of what’s needed to duplicate what was there before, so they are going to do without replacing the arena.

Garner and his wife, Angel, who are in their 70s, lived in a house on the ranch full time, and their daughter and son-in-law split their time between the ranch and nearby Coaldale.

Two years later, the elder Garners are living apart on the property — he’s in a tiny apartment above a workshop that didn’t burn and she’s in a job shack in a gravel pit. They’re hoping to break ground on a new house this fall.

When they’re at the ranch on weekends, Garner-Skiba and her husband, Doug, stay in a holiday trailer.

The ranch has been able to operate close to normal since the spring, with the same number of horses as before. New fencing was 60 per cent up as of mid-August.

Garner-Skiba said she’s grateful to “shining stars” in the agriculture community, who helped by raising money and donating hay.

She said her family will not be defined by the devastating fire of September 2017.

“This will not beat us,” she said.

“We will rise from those ashes and be stronger and build a better, bigger ranch than we had before.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

TC Energy enlists Alberta to help finish US$8-billion Keystone XL project

Alberta government has agreed toinvest about US$1.1 billion (C$1.5 billion) as equity in the project

Sylvan Lake’s Flags of Remembrance ceremonies cancelled due to pandemic

The flags will fly along the lake and Highway 11 under the name “Flags of Unity”, Sept. 12-Nov. 12

Sylvan Lake Food Bank receives nearly $5,000 from local charity group

100 Women Who Care Sylvan Lake & Area have donated more than $20,000 to local organizations

Agriculture critical during and post-epidemic, Ag Minister says

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen held a call-in town hall meeting Monday night

A message from the publisher

Consider a voluntary subscription to Sylvan Lake News

Toronto not banning sports events through June yet, but other measures in place

Toronto not banning sports events through June yet, but other measures in place

Too little too late? Experts decry Mexico virus policy delay

Too little too late? Experts decry Mexico virus policy delay

Hope floats: Alberta town ravaged by flood rolls out parade float for COVID-19

Hope floats: Alberta town ravaged by flood rolls out parade float for COVID-19

Transparency on COVID-19 response crucial: former public safety minister Goodale

Transparency on COVID-19 response crucial: former public safety minister Goodale

COVID-19 silver lining: experts predict innovation in medicine, education, remote work

COVID-19 silver lining: experts predict innovation in medicine, education, remote work

Governments looking at longer-term measures to slow COVID-19 spread

Governments looking at longer-term measures to slow COVID-19 spread

Officials warn of COVID-19’s potential impacts on vulnerable populations

Officials warn of COVID-19’s potential impacts on vulnerable populations

‘What are the chances?’ Youth worker one of Alberta’s latest COVID-19 victims

‘What are the chances?’ Youth worker one of Alberta’s latest COVID-19 victims

Most Read