The recent 250 hectare Peta Mountain fire north of Fraser Lake was effectively handled by Wildfire Management Branch (WMB) personnel, but communication with the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) was another story altogether, RDBN staff report.
The WMB operates in distinct zones of service. The RDBN straddles two fire zones, the Nadina fire zone (Nadina) and the Vanderhoof/Fort St. James fire zone (VanJam). Nadina is part of the larger Northwest fire centre while VanJam is part of the Prince George fire centre.
On Aug. 5, a Fraser Lake area home was destroyed in the Peta Mountain fire.
“No one [had] contacted RDBN staff or Emergency Service B.C. to say there’s a home at risk,” said Deborah Jones-Middleton, RDBN protective services manager. “I found out about it from the Nadina fire centre, not VanJam.”
Staff at the RDBN scrambled to locate the family later and provide emergency services. The RDBN is mandated under the Local Authority Emergency Management Regulations to contact and co-ordinate emergency services for victims in disaster situations.
“Essentially, we’re not getting information unless we’re seeking it,” Jones-Middleton said. “We have to guess at where there might be a fire and search it out. Unless someone calls us and asks us about it, we have no idea what’s going on.”
Gail Chapman, RDBN chief administrative officer, reported the local Nadina fire centre to be excellent about keeping the RDBN in the loop regarding fires.
Frustration with VanJam communications was palpable during the Aug. 16, 2013 RDBN forestry committee meeting.
“I struggle to see how we can have an organization as vast as the WMB,” said RDBN Chair Bill Miller, “that doesn’t have the capacity to deal with other organizations that have equal, or even greater responsibility to constituents’ life, limb and asset protection.”
The issue is not a new one for the RDBN.
Jones-Middleton said, “We’ve been working on this [a communication protocol] since 2010. We just want simple updates, and they’re not even contacting us regarding fires of note.”
Wildfires of note are fires that are either highly visible or which present a ‘potential threat to public safety’.
Dustin Eno, fire information officer for the Prince George fire zones explained that fire information officers work diligently to convey information as soon as it is available, but they work according to provincially established protocols.
The threat to property was, Eno said, reported to Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) on Aug. 5. EMBC was not available for comment by press time.
Wildfires of note are posted on the WMB website, but RDBN protective services – primarily responsible for a range of emergency services throughout the district – wants a more active approach to being informed.
“We’ve addressed the issue with [WMB Director] Ian Meier,” Chapman reported to the board. “He’s been unavailable to sit down with the RDBN, despite repeated efforts. During [a] meeting earlier this year, he indicated to Deborah [Jones-Middleton] very clearly that they would not develop a communications protocol specifically for us to address this issue.”
In light of these frustrations, the RDBN passed a motion to raise the issue of communication with the WMB at an upcoming meeting with the minister of forest, lands and natural resource operations at the next Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in September 2013.
Director Meier was not available for comment at press time.