Wednesday, May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

Local wildfire preparation emphasized

As heat and drought conditions persist in British Columbia, the explosion of wildfire led to the declaration of a province-wide state of emergency on Friday with evacuation orders and alerts issued over the weekend in multiple locations across B.C.  

And while the provincial government urges people to generally prepare for extreme fire behaviour, local officials stress there are steps islanders can take now. Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Dale Lundy said there are emergency plans in place for the island — with regular drills involving multiple emergency service agencies — but it’s important for people to recognize how much they can do individually and in neighbourhood groups to mitigate risk and react in an emergency. 

“There are lots of plans, but I would also encourage people to plan on being self-sufficient,” said Lundy. “Being on guard often means being prepared to help ourselves — and have a Plan B.” 

Know your plan 

New this year to help residents plan and understand the emergency response process is the Capital Regional District (CRD) Salt Spring Island Household Evacuation Guide. (It’s also available with other materials and info on the Salt Spring Emergency Program page on the CRD website.)

It includes a helpful map of designated “assembly areas” — where evacuees can gather — and “reception centres” — where evacuees may be provided care — on the island. The guide also includes information on creating evacuation checklists, emergency kits and grab-and-go bags.

Learn the big picture

Also published by the CRD in 2023 and available on the same website page is the Salt Spring Island Community Wildfire Resiliency Plan. The result of a partnership between provincial and local governments, the 140-page report outlines wildfire risk levels, agency responsibilities, mitigation and prevention strategies, and the emergency response process.

Register for alerts 

In B.C., emergency alerts are broadcast on TV, radio and cell phones to provide urgent public safety information during life-threatening emergencies. The CRD’s Public Alert Notification System (PANS) was upgraded in May 2021, so even if you had signed up before then you need to re-register at Alertable (alertable.ca) or through the CRD website.

Register for support 

Funded by the provincial government, Emergency Support Services provides quick, basic short-term support for people impacted by disasters; in an emergency that could include help with temporary lodging and food or more specialized services like emotional support and transportation. Register online at ess.gov.bc.ca.

Join your POD 

The CRD’s POD system is designed to be an island-wide communication network to link neighbourhoods to emergency operations. It is 100 per cent voluntary, and 100 per cent opt-in — that means you need to get involved before disaster strikes. Send an email to ssipod@crd.bc.ca to request a contact for your POD or neighbourhood leader; if there is no leader in your area, the program is always looking for new volunteers.  

FireSmart your property 

From simple chores like moving firewood and lawn furniture away from your house to more complex defences like roof and siding choices, the FireSmart program (firesmartbc.ca) is the most comprehensive guide to mitigating wildfire threats at your home. These measures help reduce the likelihood of fire ignition, and make helping your home an easier choice for firefighters defending multiple properties with limited resources. 

Don’t rely on Facebook 

During the evacuation of Yellowknife last week, Facebook’s blocking of news sites meant critical announcements by safety officials covered by local media were lost, while poor, incomplete or simply false information about the approaching fire spread unchecked.  

For online emergency information, go directly to news and government websites. Active during provincial emergencies, EmergencyInfoBC (EmergencyInfoBC.ca) shares verified information on public safety, evacuations and other response and recovery resources. And PreparedBC.ca is a clearinghouse for preparation and hazard mitigation before and during emergencies.

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