Fires spark need for emergency evacuation plan

Bowen Island Municipality is working with partners to come up with procedures to follow should there be a big fire on Bowen

A car’s hot muffler parked over dry grass.

A flag billowing in the wind above a barbecue, getting a little too close to the flame.

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An aluminum pop can thrown into the ditch, getting hotter and hotter under the noonday sun.

A spark from a chainsaw.

These are the things causing much anxiety for Bowen Island Fire Chief Ian Thompson as he deals with risks inherent with the increasingly tinder-dry conditions.

On Wednesday morning, the municipality issued a ban on all open flames including barbecues, campfires, tiki torches and firecrackers. Details here.

If Thompson had his druthers, he’d even go as far as banning cigarettes.

“Everyone’s just on edge,” he said after a series of meetings all this week. “This is unprecedented.”

If a fire starts, it will probably be caused by someone making a stupid mistake or not realizing how their behaviour constitutes a fire risk.

“It’s all about prevention,” Thompson says. “The public has to be a complete part of it.”

Contractors and anyone else who works with potential sources of heat — such as welders and chainsaw operators — must have a water supply and fire extinguisher handy, shut down by noon and be on alert for smoke an hour after their work stops.

This is very early in the season for the fire department to have to be worrying about such dry conditions. Fires in nearby jurisdictions, such as Sechelt and Pemberton, have clouded the region’s skies with smoke, making the risks a little too real for everyone.

The municipality is working with various emergency services and levels of government to come up with an emergency evacuation plan in case there’s a large fire on Bowen. Until now, most of the concerns had been what to do if there’s an earthquake. Now the focus is on how to get people off the island quickly.

BC Ferries has said it will do what it can should an evacuation be necessary and other water taxi services are being lined up. Right now, there is no formal system in place to notify people that they need to evacuate. The municipality is relying on websites, social media and the islanders’ ability — not to mention the sound of sirens — to spread news quickly.

RCMP Cpl. Paulo Arreaga says In case of any emergency, the RCMP's role is to ensure public safety and protect lives and property. We work closely with different agencies, such as the Fire Department, Emergency Health Services, and the Bowen Island Municipality when it comes to implementing the community’s emergency plan. One of the key roles of RCMP during wildfires will be to notify residents during evacuations. This may be accomplished through knocking on doors and alerting citizens.

Residents should be prepared to evacuate when instructed to do so. The decision to evacuate is not made lightly; evacuations are made when people are in danger. Anyone choosing to disregard an evacuation order must be aware that they might not be rescued later and they remain at their own peril.

Prepare a grab and go bag with emergency supplies (food, clothing, medications, important papers, etc.), have an emergency plan on how you will communicate with household members, and identify friends and family who would allow you to stay with them during the evacuation.

Cpl Paulo Arreaga says, "In case of any emergency, the RCMP's role is to ensure public safety and protect lives and property. We work closely with different agencies, such as the Fire Department, Emergency Health Services, and the Bowen Island Municipality when it comes to implementing the community’s emergency plan. One of the key roles of RCMP during wildfires will be to notify residents during evacuations. This may be accomplished through knocking on doors and alerting citizens.

"Residents should be prepared to evacuate when instructed to do so. The decision to evacuate is not made lightly; evacuations are made when people are in danger. Anyone choosing to disregard an evacuation order must be aware that they might not be rescued later and they remain at their own peril."

Cpl Paulo ArreagaThompson says they’re in the process of re-invigorating its NERPs — Neighbourhood Emergency Resource People — program which sees volunteers in each neighbourhood responsible for spearheading communication. 

If people spot a fire they are asked to call 911. 

In the meantime, people should follow the motto of "Hope for the best; plan for the worst."

The RCMP says you should prepare a grab and go bag with emergency supplies (food, clothing, medications, important papers, etc.), have an emergency plan on how you will communicate with household members, and identify friends and family who would allow you to stay with them during the evacuation.

There is a grab-and-go checklist of things you should have on hand in case of an emergency evacuation in the July 10 Undercurrent..

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