Skip to content

‘There’s no quick answer’: Shuswap community questions wildfire officials

Meeting draws more than 500 viewers online as regional district facilitates gathering
The community had a chance to ask some questions in regards to the Bush Creek East wildfire in the Shuswap, as the Columbia Shuswap Regional District facilitated a meeting Friday, Sept. 1. (BC Wildfire Service image)

He’s a longtime firefighter. He knows the community. Its residents. He’s been battling the Bush Creek East wildfire since day one.

At a community meeting Friday, Sept. 1, hosted by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, Sean Coubrough did his best to answer a question from information officer Erick Thompson about the challenges of getting information out when people disagree on how the wildfires should be fought, or when they should be allowed back into their homes.

“When the fires were coming through, it was a dynamic situation with some of the most intense fire behaviour we’ve seen,” said Coubrough at the meeting broadcast via Zoom and the CSRD’s YouTube channel, drawing more than 500 viewers.

“We were watching the residents pull together, helping get people out of the area, protecting some of their properties and that includes those of volunteer fire departments. It was quite incredible.

“It’s an emotional time out there. During the (evacuation) orders and alerts, we need to control the area specifically for the safety of our first responders. One thing that often gets overlooked in the protection of property is life safety is the number one priority…

“There’s no quick answer. A lot of people have been doing amazing community.”

Coubrough was one of several people who spoke during the 96-minute meeting, facilitated by Thompson, emergency operations centre director Derek Sutherland, and CSRD communications manager Tracy Hughes. The trio was also joined by BC Wildfire Services information director Mike McCulley for a short period before he had to leave for another meeting.

After a 35-minute update on the fire, and an emergency operations centre now set up at Salmon Arm’s Fairfield Inn, questions were turned over to the public. One came from a man named Bill Holtby, an evacuee who wanted an estimated time frame as to when he’d be allowed back on his property.

Sutherland said the information they receive is from raw briefings from crew leads giving rough timelines.

“Certain areas are going to be two weeks. A week ago they were saying it would be another month for some areas to get power. It’s very round numbers at this time. We don’t have anything specific, unfortunately,” said Sutherland. “I don’t think we’re as long as two weeks away in a lot of our order areas. I hope we’ll have people back sooner than that. But that’s just hope and a gut feeling. We’re working on getting people home as soon as they can.”

It was explained that a barge has been taking medical supplies, groceries, fuel and other things to the North Shuswap but that the vessel is often fully reserved. A reporter asked why locals can’t use their boats to help bring supplies across Shuswap Lake.

“During the evacuations, locals were engaged to help with getting people out of the area,” said Sutherland. “Getting the supplies over on the barge seems to be working effectively and working well, to the point the barge is getting very popular and we’re having to manage that popularity.”

McCulley told attendees that the fire is at 43,000 hectares in size, 330 ground crews are battling it with help from 18 helicopters, the 13 fire departments within the CSRD and support staff. There was significant growth, he said, above the Sorrento area over the past week.

He reminded people the region is still in significant drought conditions, despite getting some rain over the past couple of days.

“The weather’s going to warm up again, and so we have lots of work to do, we’re keen to do it, and we’re glad to do it with the help of locals and their support,” said McCulley. “I just want to remind everybody there’s lots of work to do yet, and by no means are we out of the woods yet.

“But I wish you all the best going forward. I hope you all get back home soon. There is no ulterior motive here. Everybody is working as hard as we can. It’s why we’re here.”

The community meeting can be watched in its entirety here.

READ MORE: Back to school delayed for North Shuswap students due to wildfire

READ MORE: COLUMN: Wildfires taking shine off Okanagan lifestyle

Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
Read more