/ Kevin Mills Photo

Emergency response plans being created for Mission neighbourhoods following Lytton fire

Fire Chief Mark Goddard says Steelhead, Stave Falls, and Silverdale most at risk

Members of the Mission Fire Rescue Service and the Steelhead Community Association (SCA) met for over two hours on July 16 to draft a special emergency plan for the forest-surrounded area.

Following the Lytton fire, which consumed the small village in a mere 15 minutes on June 30, on the heels of a historic heatwave in B.C., the evacuation plans for Steelhead, Stave Falls and Silverdale were re-examined, Fire Chief Mark Goddard said.

“Anywhere you look and can see there is dense, dense forest and people living around it, those are areas that we would want to be cautious about,” Goddard said. “It is extremely dry out there.

“What we’re seeing now, with that last heat dome that came through, is a fuel risk that we normally see in August (in a bad year).”

He said it’s unlikely the entire city would ever need to be evacuated, and very unlikely a Lytton-style inferno could spread as fast in the Lower Mainland as it did in the Interior, simply due to the fuel type.

RELATED: From smoke to devastation: 23 minutes in Lytton

Nevertheless, new evacuation plans and structures are in the works for areas of concern.

“You look around at all the lawns … and every thing’s blonde, the trees look a little wilted. I don’t think there’s been rain in 31 days,” he said. “That exacerbates forest fuels and dries them out. South slopes are especially susceptible to things like that.

“We’re prepared for it, but we’re really surprised at how quickly we got here this year.”

In Steelhead, the new draft lays out communication protocols between the city, emergency responders, neighbourhood leaders and residents.

Community liaisons will relay information to residents, and work with a number of air horn-equipped “gate captains,” who can provide avenues of escape on forest service roads if routes become blocked.

Because cell service is an issue in the neighbourhood, residents are being signed up for an alternate mass notification system called Connect Rocket. It can reach cell phones, emails and create text to voice alerts on landlines registered to the database.

A Neighbourhood Emergency Support Team (NEST) is also being created by the SCA, which will identify people who may need more help in an evacuation situation.

While there are no traditional alarm bells, the gate captains and their air horns will be able to warn the community with blasts signaling different meanings.

The Stave Falls neighbourhood is currently in the beginning of having its own NEST built, as well as an emergency management program, Goddard said.

There are three things that have to happen in an evacuation, but there are two different types of evacuations, according to Goddard.

He said for the first type of evacuation, a state of emergency has to be declared, then an alert goes out giving a certain time frame to gather belongings, then the evacuation order is enforced.

“What you’re seeing right now in places like 100 Mile House, when they issue an alert, they’re issuing a document that says you need to grab these things and be ready to go,” Goddard said.

The second type is an emergency evacuation, meaning, “grab the kids and the important papers and run.”

“What you saw in Lytton, that was an emergency evacuation, there was no lead time for anything,” he said.

In the event that a Mission wildfire grows beyond what the local department’s resources can handle, a chain of events to bring in outside support is sparked.

The province conducts an inventory of firefighters and equipment every Spring, and then funnels those resources to emergencies.

For example, eight Mission firefighters were recently in Lytton to help control the fires, one of them being among the first outside engines to arrive, Goddard said, and Mission crews have travelled as far north as Fraser Lake, and as far east as Cranbrook.

Missionites worried about fire in their area and wanting to make their property safer are encouraged to visit firesmart.ca.

RELATED: Footage shows homes, buildings up in flames as wildfire races through Lytton


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