Volunteering on the front lines

During a time of uncertainty, hardship, and natural disasters, there are few who would drop everything to go assist total strangers in their time of need. Lana Banham is one of those few who left the safety of the Valley to enter some of the most-affected areas of the province from wildfires, to care for displaced animals.

Ms. Banham took training with the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team last year in order to prepare for any disaster that may occur in Canada. Responding to the fires in the Cariboo region of British Columbia this summer was her first time deployed with CDART.

“CDART works closely with ESS (Emergency Social Services) and only deploy when requested by officials. They also work with RCMP, PEP (Provincial Emergency Program) and the Ministry of Agriculture. CDART is in place to offer evacuation and/or sheltering of pets, maintenance checks and feeding of animals left behind and securing animal intake facilities in the communities where they are set up. All animals are registered upon intake and are closely monitored,” said Ms. Banham.

When first deployed Ms. Banham was sent to Kamloops B.C., where she worked out of a dog training facility as well as the KXA, which was housing displaced farm animals. During her time responding to the fires she was also dispatched to 100 Mile House, Interlakes, Princeton and Williams Lake.

“Every day was a different set of responsibilities. Busy days saw us up until about 3 a.m. and up again by 6:30 or 7 a.m. Days were spent cleaning and caring for the animals, doing maintenance calls and/or evacuation, sorting donated supplies and having them shipped off to people/pets in need, cleaning horse stalls, wrangling sheep, catching grasshoppers for a leopard gecko in our care, grooming, and feeding,” said Ms. Banham.

She also spent time cooling animals, reassuring people, doing intakes, walking dogs, trailering livestock and providing daycare for pets.

Ms. Banham explained that when working in Kamloops, the fires seemed far away stating, “the fires still felt very far away there, even though the effects of it were in plain sight with all the animals who came into our care.”

“Once we got to Interlakes, it was a whole other story. The smoke was so thick that the temperature was only 22 degrees and you couldn’t even see across the road some days. The effects of the fires could be seen here, with the burn visible in both land and structures,” said Ms. Banham.

As a member of CDART, Ms. Banham was present when communities were fleeing their communities for safety. She said it made it more real.

“It was an interesting and very sad thing to see bumper to bumper traffic of evacuees driving down the highway, one after the other, for hours, with all they hold dear to them in their vehicles. Makes it a little more real to see what these people are going through and the choices they had to make,” said Ms. Banham.

The moment that touched her the most during this experience was when a semi pulled up and written on the back was, ‘With love, from Fort McMurray’.

“It was so touching, especially given that these people know exactly what people are going through here. They lived it only one year ago. There were also numerous, numerous people who stocked their vehicles and trailers to the rafters with donations and drove all night just to get them to the people in need. It is amazing how people come together in a disaster like this and that they are so giving of their time, and willingness to assist,” said Ms. Banham.

Prior to leaving, Pharmasave in Invermere donated first aid supplies and Darla and Tom Spiry donated a gas card which provided aid in the fire zone. Ms. Banham was planning on going back to do another deployment with CDART in mid-August but due to the current fire situation in the Valley she said, “I don’t think that’s wise.”

After being on the front lines, Ms.Banham reminds pet owners in the Valley to have an evacuation plan in place for all your animals. She added when an evacuation order comes down there is very little time.

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