A tree blocks 12th Ave. SE near Hillcrest school on Wednesday morning following a severe storm overnight. -Image credit: Lachlan Labere

Clean-up efforts begin following wild storm

Road closures impact the Shuswap, some residents still without power

It was a wild wind that blew no good into the Shuswap.

Tuesday night’s windstorm lasted for several hours and clocked a maximum gust of 80 kilometres per hour at the Salmon Arm Airport.

Environment Canada meteorologist Cindy Yu says the occurrence of a cold front moving across the province is usual for this time of the year, but the “huge push” of wind behind the front is unusual – as is the dramatic drop in temperature.

On Tuesday, May 23, the high temperature recorded at the airport was 31 C. At 9:30 Wednesday morning, it was 10 C with a freezing level that had dropped to 1,500 metres and a forecast high of 16 for the day.

“The contrast is unusual,” says Yu, noting the average temperature for Salmon Arm is 20 C at this time of year. “It was definitely an impressive system, with temperatures going from 10 degrees above normal to five degrees below normal.”

Sun-lovers will be happy to hear Environment Canada forecasts a return to sunny skies and warming temperatures by Friday and highs in the neighbourhood of 30 plus by Sunday.

During the storm, it was all hands on deck for the Salmon Arm Fire Department, with calls starting about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

As it was training night, most firefighters were already at their respective halls, so response was remarkable, says fire chief Brad Shirley.

“By 12:30 Wednesday morning, we had responded to 40 calls, the majority for hydro lines and trees-down related calls. But we had one brush fire in South Canoe and a carbon monoxide call on First Street SE.”

With so many calls coming in, Shirley says fire dispatch in Surrey was asked to route all of them to Hall #3 where they were prioritized and dealt with accordingly.

“We prioritized in terms of safety risk and sent multiple trucks to that,” he says of the fire near the South Canoe gravel pit that Hall #1 and #2 crews responded to around 10 p.m. “We believe it was an old fire that hadn’t been extinguished properly, a recent permitted burn.”

While the fire department allowed permitted burns over the long weekend, as of Monday, all but small campfires are prohibited within city limits. Annual campfire permits are available at the downtown firehall at a cost of $10.

Emergency Social Services were called out to assist three Salmon Arm families who were unable to stay in their homes overnight because of the damage caused by downed trees.

Shirley says BC Hydro has a massive restoration job in the days ahead and points out there is a very real possibility downed power lines will be on the ground or dangling from trees over the next few days.

“There is a good potential that they are live and very dangerous,” he says. “Stay at least 10 metres away from them and don’t try to remove any branches that are in close proximity to power lines.”

City of Salmon Arm works crews were equally busy Wednesday morning.

Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said the phones had been ringing non-stop, many regarding downed trees and hydro and Telus lines.

“We’ve been hit all over the place,” he said, still scrambling to get through all the emails and phone messages.

Along with a couple of houses being hit by trees, several roads were closed or partially closed.

Houses affected included one in the new subdivision next to Little Mountain Park.

Roads closed included Park Hill Road in Canoe, upper Lakeshore near Green Emerald Estates, 12th Avenue SE near Hillcrest Elementary, 20th Avenue/20th Street NE, the 200 block of 60th Street NE, and 63rd Street and 65th Street at 10th Avenue SE.

In Gleneden, one lane from the 2700 to 3800 block on 60th Street NW was closed.

On the regional scene, Sean Coubrough CSRD’s assistant fire chief, was in Tappen Wednesday morning providing support to Tappen-Sunnybrae firefighters who had been on the job all night.

“Details are going to be tricky because we had so many calls,” he said, offering thanks to the Turner family, who allowed access to Sunnybrae residents through their gravel pit at Ford Road when Sunnybrae Canoe Point Road was blocked by downed trees.

As of 11 a.m. May 24, Ranchero Deep Creek firefighters had responded to 18 calls, Tappen-Sunnybrae were at eight, the Shuswap Fire Department had responded to seven calls, Celista Fire Department four, Scotch Creek one and Anglemont one.

Eagle Bay was just beginning to assess in the early morning hours of Wednesday but knew they had numerous lines down.

“Ranchero was out overnight and had just gone off call when the fire chief got another call, this time for wires down on Edgar Road,” said Coubrough. “Everyone’s awaiting BC Hydro crews; everyone is stretched to the limit. I know some crews are arriving now, but it’s definitely stretched.”

And so are BC Hydro crews.

“We had multiple crews working through the night and have fresh crews coming in this morning,” said still coming Hydro media rep Jen Walker-Larsen. “We’re pulling crews from all over the province, contract crews as well, and vegetation specialists to help clear trees.”

Walker-Larsen said that as of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, 6,500 Shuswap residents were still without power, a substantial drop from the 19,000 customers who lost service in Tuesday night’s storm.

“We have about 130 trouble orders; these are separate issues such as a tree on a line or a broken power pole,” she added. “When we restore power, we prioritize in order to get the highest number of customers back on as possible.”

Anyone who sees a downed line or is without power, should call the Power on line *hydro (*49376) on their cellphone or 1-800-bchydro (1800-224-9376).

“Phone that number right away; we’re not always able to fix it right away, but they can make it safe,” she says.