As the weather begins to warm in the North Okanagan, the RDNO is starting to shift its focus towards preparing for the upcoming wildfire season. With this in mind, the RDNO is encouraging residents to do their part to reduce wildfire risk within their community and prepare their homes and family in case an evacuation is necessary.
“It is important for residents to understand that they have a responsibility to be prepared for all aspects of the wildfire season,” said Mike Fox, General Manager of Community Services, RDNO. “This includes applying FireSmart principles to their homes, having a personal emergency plan, and taking the necessary steps to be ready to evacuate should a wildfire threaten their neighbourhood or community.”
Although the RDNO has been dealing with localized flooding due to rain and seasonal run-off, they want to remind residents that wildfire season is just around the corner and now is the time to start preparing. The 2017 wildfire season is an excellent example of how the situation can change dramatically in a matter of days, from recording-breaking flooding to devastating wildfires. Already this year, British Columbia has seen aggressive wildfire behaviour that has forced residents from their homes. In April, 120 residents in the Squamish valley were forced to evacuate their homes. Sadly, three homes and several structures were lost to the wildfire.
The RDNO has been working hard to educate their residents on the importance of being prepared for wildfires by offering tools and resources that residents can access to help them prepare for an evacuation and reduce wildfire risk on their property. Through the Community Resiliency Fund provided by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the RDNO has been working with consultants and subject matter experts at Frontline Operations Group Ltd. to provide public education on FireSmart and wildfire preparedness.
“When residents take the time to prepare themselves and their properties, we see a significant reduction in homes lost and the need to evacuate communities,” says Amanda Newell, an Emergency Management Specialist with Frontline. “There are several recent events both within BC and throughout Western Canada that demonstrate how quickly a wildfire can escalate, leaving homeowners with little or no time to protect their homes and gather their families, pets and important items when the threat becomes imminent. People never think it will happen to them, so they don’t take the time to prepare; we need to change that mindset”.
The Fort McMurray Wildfire in 2016 is one of those examples where things can go from bad to worse in a matter of moments. On a Tuesday morning, there were smoke warnings issued and by Tuesday afternoon, the wildfire had spread into city boundaries, causing the evacuation of over 88,000 people. The 2017 wildfires in Cariboo Regional District saw similar timelines with evacuation orders issued to communities within a few hours of the wildfire’s ignition
Studies conducted after the Fort Murray Wildfire identified that homes that rated low for wildfire risk had a 62% survival rate compared to a 4% survival rate of homes that rated extreme. The Canada FireSmart program has created a step by step guide for homeowners to assess their properties and provides guidelines on how to reduce their risk.
“Homeowners are often concerned about the forest stand that surrounds their home and their community. However, studies have shown that the first 10m around the home can be the key factor when it comes to a home’s survival during a wildfire,” says Frontline’s Brittany Seibert, a Local FireSmart Representative. “90% of homes with a clean, non-flammable roof and 10m of FireSmart clearance will survive a wildfire. There are simple and inexpensive ways to FireSmart your home, which will, in turn, drastically reduce the chance of you losing your home.”
Alongside using FireSmart, RDNO residents can prepare themselves by creating a personal emergency plan. A personal emergency plan should include information on local hazards in your area, important contact numbers, and a pre-designated meeting place for family members. Identifying a family member or friend that you can stay with outside of your community while evacuated is also important.
Residents should also have a Grab-And-Go Bag pre-made for each house-hold member, including pets. A Grab-And-Go bag should include things like copies of important documents, extra medications, seasonal clothing and non-perishable food. Another tip for residents is to keep their vehicle’s fuel level at least half full throughout the wildfire season as gas stations are often overrun during an evacuation and can’t always support the influx. A half a tank of gas should ensure residents are able to make it to their destination or to a gas station in a neighbouring community. PrepareBC has several downloadable resources to help residents, including a fillable emergency plan and suggestions for what to include in your Grab-And-Go Bag.