Melody Garner-Skiba choked back tears as she recounted the day she saw her family home burn to the ground in the 2017 Kenow fire.
She said time has healed some of those wounds.
“I am not as sad; I am hopeful,” said Garner-Skiba, while at her family’s ranch.
“It’s still heartbreaking some days, you think that it would go away. It has dissipated some, don’t get me wrong, but tears still flow on a regular basis.
“It’s hard to admit but tears still flow.”
Rocking Heart Ranch is nestled in the Canadian Rockies, right next door to Waterton Lakes National Park.
Saddling up and riding the property, it’s evident what the fire took.
Garner-Skiba said the house, barn, arena and other out buildings were destroyed in the fire.
“My parents have decided we are not rebuilding a house. At this time, we are actually going to be building a barn with living quarters.”
Rocking Heart Ranch is rebuilding but things will look different, much like the family’s perspective.
Jim Garner, Melody’s dad, said the fire showed him just how strong his family is.
“If anything, it’s strengthened my family bonds, my family ties. That is why I can work harder to put this ranch back together.”
Garner said things could have been much worse and he chooses to focus on the positive.
“No loss of life, didn’t lose any stock. People laugh at me but I still think I am living the dream here and I am going to rebuild and finish living that dream right here.”
The fire destroyed all but one major structure on the property, a shop Garner is currently living in. Fences are nearly all rebuilt, a building housing the ranch’s main services had been put up, but so far that is the only building rebuilt.
As Rocking Heart Ranch moves ahead, fire prevention is top of mind.
“Everything is going to be done in tin, making sure there is gravel around. There is rocks, there is going to be very little trees or anything like that just because we never want to go through this again,” Garner-Skiba said.
She added the community support was overwhelming for her family and many of her neighbours like the Jenkins family, who also lost their ranch.
Donations came in from all over: hay for livestock, money for supplies and words of encouragement from across North America.
Garner-Skiba said it was humbling for her family to receive the help and experience the outpouring of support.
“Our community here in southern Alberta, and the farming and ranching and Ag community, I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: best industry you could ever be in because they are totally supportive of you when the chips are down.”
While the Garners try to focus on the future and rebuilding their ranch, they can’t help but keep a watchful eye on the looming smoke that this year’s wildfires have caused in their area.
“You see the smoke, you smell the smoke, your heart starts to race a bit,” said Garner-Skiba. “I think this is our new normal, as much as I hate to say that, I think it is.”
Whatever the future brings, she added her family will face it together.
“We’ve just started the climb. We are no where near the top yet, but we’ll get there.”
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