Choking smoke, falling ash, apocalyptic orange skies and fear – a great deal of fear.
This is how many of us will remember the summer of 2021.
Few things spike terror more than being in the path of an approaching wildfire. And while the fear is justified, determined firefighters have worked long, tiring hours to quell the many fires that ignited across the vast regional district.
Directed by an incident commander, wildfires in B.C. are managed by a team that includes fire behaviour and firefighting experts, weather specialists and mapping, planning and logistics experts. These are the folks who recommend wildfire alerts and evacuation orders based on fire activity and potential for growth.
In the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, responsibility for following through on alerts and orders falls to the Shuswap Emergency Program, which includes the municipalities of Salmon Arm and Sicamous. In response to several wildfires this summer, an emergency operations centre was established in the regional district’s Salmon Arm boardroom.
Similar to provincial response teams, the EOC is staffed by experts in wildfire operations, geographical information systems (GIS) logistics, planning and communications.
Another team member provides cohesion by liaising with other agencies, ministries and local authorities. And, due to the rural nature of the regional district, an agriculture specialist helps with the relocation of farm animals and pets.
Responding to structure protection requests from Wildfire BC and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are the members of CSRD’s 13 fire departments and those of Salmon Arm and Sicamous.
Daily wildfire and weather briefings are provided by the Kamloops Fire Centre, information that provides the basis for activity in the EOC and and news releases that are quickly disbursed on several social media platforms.
EOC members worked cooperatively with focus and commitment to doing everything possible to make sure people received the help they needed, including referring evacuees to the programs’s Emergency Support Services. And everyone worked many long shifts without breaks or complaints.
While clear skies and lower temperatures have provided some relief, wildfire season is not over. Much will depend on weather. So don’t unpack your grab-and-go bag yet.
And think about being proactive by reducing the fire risk on your own property. FireSmart manuals are available and a FireSmart co-ordinator will even visit your home to help with risk assessment. Go online to csrd.bc.ca for information.
Barb Brouwer is a former Observer reporter who worked at the EOC this summer.