Rossland Ready For Wildfires

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
August 6th, 2009

What would happen if a lightning strike, errant cigarette butt or careless campfire sparked a fire that got out of control and threatened Rossland? If you had asked City Hall that question a year or even a month ago, you would have likely gotten some surprised faces or shoulder shrugs for answers.

“We’ve always had one (Emergency plan) but we had very little input and or activity with it because the Regional District was doing it on behalf of the city so we really were in the dark. We had no clue,” explained Jason Ward. “If a fire had happened we’d be running around up here waiting for the Regional District to show up.”

Tasked by council over the past year to put together an emergency preparedness plan, Jason Ward (also a building inspector for the city) has now got a completed draft ready to run through the various levels of approval. The new plan is expected to come before council at its August 16th meeting.

The plan itself is composed of two components. The first step is the emergency management plan in which all of the potential emergency-causing hazards around the community are identified. Each of those hazards are then assessed in light of the likelihood and severity of the effect they could have on the community. In Rossland, the top priority is the threat of wildfire.

The second component of the plan is the emergency social services team. This team is set up and trained so that if people are displaced from their homes they can have a place to stay, be fed, have a change of clothes, and can contact their families and get counselling or any other type of assistance they may need.

As part of the overall plan, the city has just completed a draft version of the community wildfire protection plan. With that plan in place Rossland can “now take more of a proactive role with our own plan. We’re just at the point now where our emergency teams are trained and everything so now we’re into public awareness,” explained Ward.

The original draft was expected to be completed by June. Ironically enough, wildfires themselves slowed down the process. The city had been waiting on the regional fire service to complete its wildfire protection plan before they could move on. Don Mortimer, who was working on the plan, was called away to fight fires in the Lillooet region for most of March and April.

So just what would happen now if a wildfire emergency happened in Rossland?

“It’s a series of events that occur,” explained Ward. “It’s not automatically deemed an emergency. If it is an interface fire (a fire coming into contact with homes or structures) than we’ll be notified and put out due notice to the people. We do that in several ways: radio, announcements and a truck with a PA system. That would be in the affected areas only. It would be very unlikely that the whole city would have to evacuate all at once. That would be one heck of an event and we’d all have ample warning in that case.”

The chain of command would see the city’s emergency management team first recommend to city council that they declare an emergency. The Mayor and council are the only folks in town who can declare an emergency. The police would then be called in to go door to door evacuating people as the police are the only entity legally allowed to evacuate residents.

With smoke hanging in our valleys for the past week and fires raging across the province, dry forests and lower than average precipitation the threat of a wildfire in Rossland is real.

“Fortunately from our community wildfire plan, we are actually sitting pretty good at the moment,” said Ward. “We have lots of water in the reservoirs and our fuel load is actually conducive to slowing down the advance of fire as opposed to speeding it up. That’s based on the types of trees we have here. A lot of deciduous and coniferous. The ‘Kootenay mix’, as it’s called, is very good for slowing down wildfires.”

To help your family prepare for a wildfire or other emergency the city is now launching a public awareness campaign that includes handouts available at city hall for what to do in various types of emergencies. This information will also be taken out to the local schools.

In addition to information packages, the city is also looking at hosting workshops on fuel reduction and how to make your property safer to prevent wildfires. As part of this effort, the city will be showing before and after pictures of various properties that have undergone fuel reduction.

Said Ward, “We want people to See that it’s not just a clear cut but more like a few branches and twigs cut here and there and removing leaves and things.”

To learn more about how to prepare for emergencies and wildfires you can stop by city hall to pick up their information packages or go online to the provincial emergency program’s website at www.pep.bc.ca .

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