John MacLean, Emergency Operations Centre director and RDKB CAO, led a public meeting at Grand Forks Secondary School on Thursday regarding the wildfire situation in and around Grand Forks.
Speaking to the crowd were Frank Konrad, Grand Forks mayor; Grace McGregor, RDKB board chair/Area C Christina Lake director; Roly Russell, RDKB Area D/Rural Grand Forks director; Alvin Boyer, BC Wildfire Services; Tony Falco, BC Wildfire Services incident commander; Gord Parker, Office of the Fire Commissioner; and MacLean.
The same group spoke at Christina Lake that same evening except without Konrad and Russell, and Pat McPhillips filling in for Parker representing the office of the fire commissioner. Approximately 500 people showed up at the meeting in Grand Forks, while 300 were at Christina Lake.
The speakers urged people to be calm but ready as they provided updates on the wildfires that could have an impact on both communities.
Updates were provided on the Rock Creek fire and the more worrisome fire in the U.S. known as the Kettle Complex (Stickpin), located just south of Grand Forks.
“We’re here to give you as much information as we can about the fire situation in the basin for the summer,” said MacLean, in his opening remarks to the crowd. “We have our partners from the BC Wildfire management branch, Office of the Fire Commissioner and the Ministry of Transportation. We’re all working together to ensure we can get through this as safe as we can.”
MacLean told residents that preparations for evacuation plans have been put in place for both areas, although at this time Grand Forks is of less concern than the Cascade Ponderosa and Santa Rosa areas of Christina Lake.
MacLean noted that there are two levels of evacuation: alert and order. An evacuation alert means residents should be ready to evacuate. An evacuation order means residents must leave their homes immediately and vacate the area using local roads and Highway 3. Evacuees are required to report to the Trail Memorial Arena (1051 Victoria St.).
He stressed that at this time neither area is under any evacuation alerts. If it happens, the evacuation alert would be posted on the RDKB website (RDKB.com), Twitter and through the radio.
For both evacuation levels, RCMP officers will go door to door to alert each resident.
Boyer from BC Wildfire Service said that the region has 135 wildfires to date, well above the average of 35. He said that all the fires have really pushed firefighting resources to their limit.
“We’ve had to prioritize the fires so we can get to the fires that are affecting people and properties firstly,” he said. “Right now we have 18 fires burning within the zones.”
Tony Falco, incident commander, told the crowd the Stickpin fire is about four kilometres from the Canadian border near Grand Forks.
“It hasn’t moved very much in the last few days,” he said. “One large reason is the old fire site it’s run into just south of town. That’s really good for us. That’s really slowed it down.”
He said the fire is more active on the other side (east) and that they expect the fire to grow.
“You’ll see more smoke in town and a lot of ash,” said Falco.
Falco said he has met with U.S. personnel and they are also experiencing a big fire year and their resources are also stretched thin. He informed the crowd that they have worked out a concept with the Americans to put Canadian firefighters on the fire.
“What it means is putting Canadian boots on the ground on the other side of the border to protect our valuable resources on this side of the border,” he said. “It’s been a really busy day. I expect it to be a busy next couple of weeks. We’ve got lots of resources coming in. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but we’ve a good strategic plan and we’re moving forward.”
The meeting ended with a question period in which MacLean and the other speakers took questions from the crowd.