Residents on Hot Springs Road in Fairmont Hot Springs are still reeling from a second torrent of mud that came through their neighbourhood just days after a mudslide tore through the community on July 15.
“When I got here on Tuesday [July 17], water was coming around our house, just a raging torrent of water,” Calgary resident Bill Brown told The Valley Echo. “Our backyard is absolutely destroyed, it used to be this beautiful garden with over 400 varieties of wildflowers and now there is three feet of mud all throughout our yard.”
Following last Sunday’s mudslide that resulted from a debris buildup in Fairmont Creek, engineers and geotechs with the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) determined a one-time mountain slough caused the incident at which point building inspectors were dispatched to do damage assessments of properties and a ground search was done to ensure all people were accounted for before crews went to work re-establishing the creek channel.
On the advice of the Provincial Water Stewardship Branch, RDEK crews began at the bottom of the mudslide’s path near the Fairmont firehall area and were working their way up to where the access road to the resort’s RV park had been washed out. But because the ground was so saturated, said RDEK emergency service co-ordinator Carol Lind, a part of the bank that had been re-established collapsed early Tuesday morning and the water began to pour.
“So the water that came down on Tuesday, that wasn’t flowing from the date of the incident,” she said.
Brown’s elderly parents live in their Fairmont home full time but were in Calgary with their son when the first mudslide hit. When Brown arrived in Fairmont with his parents on Tuesday to survey the damage, he was horrified to discover a sheet of thigh-high muddy water roaring through his parents’ yard.
“We basically had a river running down the side of our house and across the street,” he said. “The devastation was just incredible.”
Full time Fairmont resident Rory Sinclair heard the sound of water rushing past his head at about 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
“I woke up, I don’t think anybody around here was sleeping very well anyway,” he said. “It was basically a mad rush to try and divert the water because it was going back through the houses.”
Sinclair said the private home owners on the street had to take it upon themselves to save their houses and were extremely frustrated with the lack of assistance they were offered and the amount of time it took for sandbags to eventually be delivered.
Brown echoed his frustration, saying they had to make their own road closure signs and were not given any guidance by local officials on how to manage the situation.
“We were basically left to our own devices to deal with it,” agreed Sinclair. “Everybody in the community was unbelievable working together, it was awesome.”
According to Lind, the RDEK heard about the request for sandbags through Gary Burford, the RDEK emergency program co-ordinator who was personally on the scene.
“We had to request funding from the Province so once we got that organized we were able to bring in the sand,” Lind said, adding that one of the residents offered to pick up the sandbags from the public works yard.
She said it’s currently being evaluated to see whether or not the event will be considered eligible for disaster financial assistance, which is a provincial program. Affected residents can fill out a claim and work with the Province to see if there’s any reimbursement available, she said. If not, it will be the responsibility of residents to clear any debris off their properties. A request has been made to the RDEK board to waive tipping fees at the landfills for this purpose, she said.
“The province is telling us that all we have the mandate and the authority to do is re-establish the creek,” she said. “Every night before we leave we are continually going back down monitoring all those areas, especially those weak points , and making sure that they are holding so that there is no more flood waters coming down.”
By Monday (July 20), crews had re-established the creek up to the Fairmont resort pool area and the access road to the RV park.
“What we’re doing is just clearing debris and making sure that the water will move through there freely,” said Lind. “We’re working with Water Stewardship to see if we need to go further than that point… if not, then we should be done within a couple of days.”
As for the resort itself, the campers who were stranded when the slide took out the access road to the resort’s RV park were given temporary access on Monday, July 23. The RV park has since closed as construction has begun on a more permanent structure. Because the landslide ruptured the main water line to the Fairmont Hot Springs Lodge and the RV Park, these also have been closed but are expected to reopen on Thursday (July 26). A new water supply line is under construction.
Editor’s note: In a previous story, it was incorrectly stated that the RV park and campground affected by the mudslide at the resort was Spruce Grove. The correct name is the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Park and Campground. The Valley Echo regrets the error.