As national and international headlines blaze with news of devastating forest fires, islanders have been asking what measures are in place for emergency situations on Bowen. The following is a question and answer with Bowen Island Municipality’s emergency program coordinator Jennifer McGowan and fire chief Ian Thompson.
1. How big a threat are forest fires on Bowen?
McGowan: We face similar risks to other communities within the Fraser Fire Zone.
According to the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, Bowen overall “is classified as having a moderate to high fire risk profile.”
Bowen residents seem aware of the threat, particularly with interface fires in Greece, California, Ontario and B.C. in the news right now, and this awareness is encouraging in terms of fire prevention and reporting.
Ian Thompson: The fire department hasn’t received a call for an unattended campfire in about three weeks, after previously receiving calls for approximately three campfires over the long weekend, which is encouraging. For the most part, the public is aware of the threat and diligent about calling fires into 911.
If individuals are responsible, the threat is reduced: smokers throwing cigarette butts out their windows continues to be an issue and those who see this are encouraged to record the licence plate information and report incidents to the local RCMP non-emergency line.
2. How well prepared is Bowen for a forest fire?
McGowan: Individually, there seems to be a range of preparedness, from those who have their own roof-top wildfire sprinkler protection systems to those who have never considered the risk.
Thompson: Bowen Island Fire Department is prepared for a forest fire. The department engages in wildfire equipment training and practices, and has a wildfire trailer equipped with portable pumps, hose, water backpacks, foam, etc. It’s worth noting that fire suppression assistance would come from the B.C. Wildfire Service for any fire on Crown land.
3. Is there/what is the evacuation plan if a fire breaks out?
McGowan: While no formal evacuation plan for Bowen currently exists, preliminary work has been done regarding evacuation planning; creating an evacuation plan is a priority for the emergency program. BIM is applying for grant funding (available through the province) to draft an evacuation plan: the hope is that this work can commence in early 2019. It may be worth noting that an island-wide evacuation (where every single home on the island is under evacuation order) is extremely unlikely and that no Gulf Island has ever been fully evacuated.
4. In the event of such an emergency, how will islanders be notified?
McGowan: The primary source of relevant information will be BowENS, the public notification system launched in 2017. Islanders are encouraged to check the municipal website (major alerts appear on the front page of the site) and watch, access and listen to local news media during any emergency.
In B.C. there are different types of evacuations used in different circumstances: tactical, voluntary and mandatory.
An evacuation alert signals to residents that they need to be ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice. Those who leave during this stage do so voluntarily.
An evacuation order means that people must leave the area immediately, and this will be enforced by police and officials. Residents are strongly encouraged to register at a reception centre to let officials know they are safe and connect them with services (such as food and lodging) if needed. In the event of an evacuation order, impacted residents will be notified by RCMP and first responders knocking on their door, and may or may not receive advance notice prior to that.
While we hope to be able to give notice prior to an evacuation, this is not always possible depending on the nature of the event. In the event of a tactical evacuation, no prior notice will be given, and residents will have only moments to leave their homes.
Hopefully this reality highlights for residents the need to be prepared in advance.
5. Is there somewhere people can go to educate themselves more?
McGowan: Come to a FireSmart workshop presented by provincial wildfire expert Bruce Blackwell and learn more about steps you can take to protect your homes from interface fires. Workshops are on: Tuesday, August 14 at 7 p.m., or Thursday, September 27 at 7 p.m. Both workshops will be held at Fire Hall #2, (1421 Adams Rd)
General preparedness information: