Many local governments and residents across B.C. have learned the hard way that they need to be prepared for anything.
The recent wildfire activity has forced nearly 45,000 people out of their homes. So what would the local response be if a major wildfire threatened the Burns Lake area?
According to Jason Llewellyn, director of planning for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), the regional district is prepared to respond to the need for an evacuation. However, he said there’s no firm plan.
“It is not possible to plan the details of an evacuation in advance because the many factors specific to each potential event require specific evacuation protocols,” he explained.
These factors include the location and direction of the threat, the size of the evacuation area, road closures, as well as the time available to evacuate.
“The training provided to local government staff is designed to allow local governments to respond as necessary to each unique situation,” said Llewellyn.
Local governments are required to undertake their emergency response in accordance with the B.C. emergency management system, which establishes the standards and guiding principles for emergency response.
Each local government in B.C. is responsible for emergencies within their jurisdiction. Therefore the District of Houston would be responsible for issuing evacuation alerts and orders within the municipal boundary while the RDBN would be responsible for the unincorporated rural areas.
However, local governments do not have the authority to issue evacuation orders on First Nations reserve lands, being up to each First Nation to issue their own alerts and orders.
In the event of an interface fire near Houston requiring residents to be under an evacuation alert or order, both the district’s emergency operations centre (EOC) and the regional district’s EOC would be activated.
“In this situation, the RDBN would coordinate our response with the village, and possibly have a joint EOC if appropriate,” said Llewellyn. “Local First Nations would be invited to participate in this process to ensure that actions were coordinated.”
In 2014, the RDBN ordered two immediate evacuation orders and declared a state of emergency as two wildfires – China Nose and Chelaslie Arm – spread across the region. An emergency social services centre was set up in Burns Lake at the Heritage Centre while reception centres for displaced residents were set up at the College of New Caledonia in Burns Lake and at Houston’s municipal office.
Llewellyn said local governments rely heavily on the recommendation of the B.C. Wildfire Service when deciding whether to issue an evacuation alert or evacuation order.
He added that the province’s involvement would depend on the nature and scope of the event. That could range from providing coordination to local governments and first responders to declaring a state of provincial emergency.
Making emergency preparedness a priority
Emergency Management B.C. is urging the public to make emergency preparedness a priority.
According to the agency, creating a home emergency kit doesn’t need to take long or become costly. Just follow the basic list below and remember to store your collected supplies in an easy-to-access location during an emergency.
Home emergency kits should include a first aid kit, battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlight and extra batteries, whistle to signal for help, cellphone with charger (inverter or solar charger), cash in small bills, a minimum three-day supply of food, dust masks, seasonal clothing and footwear, and a minimum three-day supply of water (minimum of four litres of water per person, per day).