A frightened Millie Gogo was rolling on her cell phone on Monday night as firefighters tried to save her family’s Christmas tree farm.
“It was scary. I know how dry it is there and I felt scared,” said Gogo, who is the co-owner of Gogo’s Christmas Tree Farm.
The wildfire, which is believed to have been sparked by a just piece of broken glass, consumed an estimated 800-1,000 grown Christmas trees off Nanaimo River Road and threatened to spread over a nearby ridge to structures into the community of Extension. Three volunteer departments assisted by helicopters from Coastal Fire hit it in tandem, as dangerously dry conditions have turned the farm into nearly perfect fuel for it.
“It’s tinder-dry, especially with these winds and these crosswinds and stuff and you dig down in the ground and it’s six, seven inches of dry powdered dirt. We got some pretty vigorous fires going on in the stumps and the roots still,” Kevin Young, Extension Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief, said.
The Gogo family has farmed trees south of Nanaimo for 93 years. Mike Gogo said he has been worried about this very scenario playing out, particularly as the Stage 4 drought intensified.
“We’ve been really lucky on the Island you know and I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop now, for some time now. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be on me, but it did,” said Gogo, a co-0wner of Gogo’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Fortunately, crews gained control of the fire but expected to stay on scene through the weekend.
Gogo has hundreds of acres of Christmas trees growing on his farm, in this summer’s record drought and estimates he’s lost 10,000 seedlings in just the last few weeks alone.
“It’s really, really a concern. It’s getting drier and drier and there’s no doubt to me about climate change because when I was a boy, it rained half the summer,” said Gogo. “When I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I cattle ranched here and we had a hard time getting four sunny days in a row to bring hay in.”
So the Christmas tree farmer has bought his own fire truck to protect him and his neighbours, and water trees that are dying in the heat.
“We’ll take it day by day, that’s all we can do,” said Gogo.
His alternative, he joked will be growing cactuses in this rainforest, but hopes it won’t come to that.