Cathy Semchuk, director of Emergency Social Services, briefs volunteers on the latest situation with the wildfires and services available for evacuees. -File photo.

First floods, then fires

CSRD’s Emergency Operations Centre set up since April.

The CSRD’s usually temporary Emergency Operations Centre is starting to feel a little too permanent these days.

Darcy Mooney, manager, Operations Management briefed directors on CSRD’s emergency response at the June 20 board meeting in Salmon Arm.

“The EOC (emergency operations centre) has been activated since April 7,” said Mooney. “It has not stood down because of numerous serious incidents, high water, debris landslides in April, May and June.”

The day after the July 7 debriefing with responding agencies, wildfire season began.

“We’re always ready for activation,” Mooney said. “I would say we were more ready than we might have been, having had a debrief and we’ve already made improvements to the EOC set up.”

Sutherland told directors that at the request of the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner, a five-member structural protection unit was sent to protect a mill in 100 Mile House.

As he was speaking, he said that team was heading home and was meeting a relief team in Kamloops to provide information and advice on where to go.

“We’re having tough time telling them they can’t go back up right away,” said Sutherland, noting protecting the regional district is the first priority with only what can safely be spared sent to other jurisdictions. “Their job was critical and the fire commissioner was saying how invaluable they are.”

The regional district also sent a tender from Ranchero and a tender from Anglemont to help with wildfire operations, again at the request of the fire commissioner.

On the local front, the ESS reception centre located at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort opened July 16 and had registered 550 evacuees by last Thursday morning.

Proud of the regional district’s current emergency social services response, Mooney said he and new protection services team leader Derek Sutherland are “tag-teaming” to manage the EOC set up in the CSRD office and provide support to wildfire evacuees who have come to Salmon Arm.

There was praise for ESS director Cathy Semchuk, who not only manages the local reception centre, but was seconded to Kamloops to help process evacuees in that city.

“Numerous CSRD staff, volunteers and contractors have been highly trained to fill the assigned roles and there’s highly trained pros on the ESS side too,” said Mooney.

Semchuk offered high praise for her 60 highly trained ESS volunteers, who have been travelling to Kamloops every day when demand was high and were warmly welcomed.

“It’s a busy, busy place, but the volunteers don’t complain; we have a great capacity here and we’re picking up some other great new volunteers,” Semchuk said. “You should be very proud, we’re ready because we have a passionate, committed group.”

Revelstoke Mayor Mark McKee congratulated staff.

“Obviously you have developed a quality trained team,” he said. “It sounds to me like everything from our end is working as it should, but it’s a good time to remind residents that every individual should be prepared to look after themselves for 72 hours.”

Area F director Larry Morgan said that because of the current extreme fire risk, he is hearing from many nervous people in his North Shuswap constituency, particularly as there is only one road in and out of the area.

”I am asked do we have evacuation plans; we have a single-lane bridge, what are our options?” he said. “We’re suffering from a lack of information, not knowing what options there are.”

Mooney said staff have been working actively with groups in Seymour Arm and once the wildfire situation calms down, CSRD would be happy to reach out to communities that are willing to work with the regional district.

Electoral Area C director Paul Demenok added his verbal applause but requested better communication plans.

“There is a need for communicating to people, they aren’t aware of what’s in place unless they are involved,” he said.

Area D director Rene Talbot was angry that he and has constituents had no knowledge of recent lightning strikes.

“We had three lightning strikes above Falkland and we’re getting all our updates from Facebook,” he complained. “We had another one this morning at Pillar Lake; it’s only in the last few days directors have been getting information.”

The issue of major changes at the rapattack base in Salmon Arm was broached by Salmon Arm Coun. Chad Eliason, who wants the board to be proactive in asking the government to restore operations at the base. The issue will be brought back to the August meeting of the board.