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Be aware and be prepared to evacuate: Advice as wildfire season begins in South Okanagan

May 05, 2016 - 9:00 PM

PENTICTON - City and regional district officials say residents need to be aware and ready for the unwelcome potential of an evacuation order with wildfire season upon us.

Penticton Deputy Fire Chief Dave Spalding says the city has a schedule of plans for an evacuation strategy for all areas of the city, but adds no municipality can prepare for a fire like that being experienced in Fort McMurray this week.

“A fire of that magnitude is tough to prepare for and tough to manage within the community, because everyone is evacuated. No one can prepare for that. There are too many variables,” he says, noting the dry, beetle killed boreal forest on the edge of the city in Fort McMurray was one factor Penticton doesn't have to face.

Spalding says the city tries to maintain two exits out of every subdivision, but that strategy has been tough to implement in neighbourhoods built in the 1970s and early 1980s before fire safe practices were adopted.

He says residents need to be quick to phone 911 - even if fire happens because of something they’ve done.

“A small fire is nothing compared to what might happen should a wildfire develop and destroy property,” he says, adding early detection is the only way to stop a wildfire once it begins.

Spalding says residents in urban interface areas need to be aware of what it means to have a fire smart property, ensuring their homes have the best possible chance should fire sweep their neighbourhood.

Residents wishing to find out more about making their properties fire safe are encouraged to contact the Penticton Fire Department.

“If we’re fighting a fire, we may have to triage — assess the neighbourhood for what we can save and what we can’t,” Spalding says. “If a residence has towering pines overhanging it, with a winter wood supply stacked against the house and pine needles thick on the ground, that house is already lost in a major fire.”

Okanagan Similkameen Regional District emergency services coordinator Dale Kronebusch says before the evacuations start they make sure the evacuee registration centres are set up.

"We want to make sure people realize the importance of registering even if they aren’t looking for services like accommodation so we know how to get hold of them in case of an emergency, notify them of property damage or to give them the all clear,” Kronebusch says.

He says people living in subdivisions or communities with limited access need to be aware of changing conditions should wildfire break out in their area.

“We’re really banking on early detection and early notification, so if we end up going into an evacuation alert people need to pay attention to that. Even though we’re not pushing anyone out the gate yet, we need to be able to move people within 20 minutes of an evacuation alert going to an order,” Kronebusch says.

He also noted many communities and subdivisions within the regional district are limited to one way in and out.

“Realistically, we just have to give as much notice as we can and forecast where there are going to be problem areas,” he says, adding residents need to give consideration to having a grab and go bag at the ready, or a list of items they can easy access and grab in the event of an emergency evacuation.


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