Column: Becoming better prepared for floods and fires

Council Report by Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison

Spring and summer in the Shuswap are hard to beat with lots of sunshine, warm waters and endless outdoor opportunities. We are so fortunate to live in this wonderful place.

However, these seasons also bring the risks of flooding and wildfire. Climate change has heightened this risk. Smoke that has migrated into our valley the past two summers is worrying.

The snow pack feeding our watershed is presently at 79 per cent. This reduces the chance of flooding and landslides this year. We do know, however, that the snow pack is just one variable that affects the chance of flood.

Read more: In photos: Back to flooding in the Shuswap

Read more: Salmon River upgraded to flood warning status

Warmer than usual temperatures, or heavy June rains, can increase flooding. While we have experienced some washouts within the city boundaries over the past two years, specifically on Foothill Road and in the Gleneden area, those living in the rural areas of Sorrento and Silver Creek have experienced considerable flooding and resulting damage.

Last year saw a 1-in-200-year high water on the Salmon River. Up and down the river, water rose over the banks. Emergency personnel sandbagged acute areas, including alongside the fields at Demille’s.

For the majority of residents, wildfire is our biggest fear. We have seen large fires throughout the province over the past few years. We are planning ahead, both to try to prevent wildfires in our area, and so that we are ready should fires start.

The 1998 Silver Creek wildfire destroyed more than 40 buildings and resulted in the evacuation of 7,000 residents. In response to this devastating fire, the Shuswap Emergency Program (SEP) was established. SEP is multi-jurisdictional, encompassing Salmon Arm, Sicamous and the surrounding regional districts. Working together, SEP is a model emulated throughout B.C.

Derek Sutherland is the team leader of Protective Services. Regardless of the circumstance, we have plans in place to activate emergency operations. In Salmon Arm, the Emergency Operations Centre is situated in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District building, with the community centre being our Emergency Evacuation Centre.

Emergency Support Services (ESS) consists of 86 highly trained and active volunteers. Whether there is a house fire, or flood event, ESS jumps into action to assist those effected. Local volunteers have been deployed throughout the province, having helped set-up and operate the reception area during the Burns Lake fire last summer.

Read more: Waterway Houseboats wins $2 million for damages caused in 2012 flooding

Read more: CSRD pursuing flood-risk maps of Shuswap

Twenty well trained paid-on-call fire fighters make up the Structural Protection Unit (SPU). The SPU team is used in the protection of homes from urban interface wildfire. Members of our team have been called to fires throughout the province. The experience we gain from these situations helps us build our own emergency plans.

The City of Salmon Arm is working with our Neskonlith neighbours to build a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Together we have applied for recently announced provincial granting opportunities. These monies can be used to put together a community plan and to educate and assist residents in reducing wildfire danger around their homes.

Once fires start, they are difficult to stop. We need to be proactive, by reducing the fuel load both within large city parks and on Crown lands surrounding Salmon Arm. Working together, with funding assistance from the provincial and federal governments, our goal is to help mitigate the risk of wildfire.

To learn more, please check out his link www.csrd.bc.ca/services/emergency-management.


@SalmonArm
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