City prepares for possible wildfire threats

For the first time since the city was under threat of wildfires in 2010 Williams Lake is setting up its Emergency Operation Centre (EOC).

For the first time since the city was under threat of wildfires in 2010 Williams Lake is setting up its Emergency Operation Centre (EOC).

Fire Chief Des Webster said the precautionary work is being done in response to one of the driest springs on record.

“The last prediction I (read) was that May was as bad, if not worse, than 2003 which was one of the worst fire seasons we had,” Webster told members of the social planning council Monday.

“We are waiting for the June rains to come, but I don’t know if at this point we’ve received the amount of rain they were expecting. My guess is no.”

The ground is so dry that any rain that falls runs off, he said, noting an overnight downpour for three or four hours will be gone in four hours the next day if the sun’s out.

“We are in a high to extreme area for a potential interface fire,” Webster said.

The new fire hall was designed with an area for an EOC that can stand alone and work without power for up to 72 hours.

“We encourage our residents to prepare themselves for any time of the year, by that I mean everyone should be ready to self-sustain for 72 hours,” Webster said, noting people can find that information on the Emergency Management B.C. website.

“In some point in time, the government kicks in but there is a span when it won’t be quick enough, depending on the size of the event.”

Webster reminded the public to sign on to the Everbridge emergency notification system by going to everbridge.net or your local government’s website.

Early this spring the city signed on to the mass notification system with the Cariboo Regional District, Quesnel, 100 Mile House and Wells.

It’s a mass, free notification system that will alert people to any emergencies through a phone message, text message or e-mail.

“Within five seconds we can send out a message to thousands of people, but you have to register,” he said. “You can put as many numbers as you want.”

After the fires in 2010, the city developed an evacuation plan and divided the city into 12 zones that allows for evacuation of the city as a whole or portioning it off.

“We can move people from zone to zone if that’s what’s required and within each zone there’s a mustering point where people can go who don’t have transportation and transportation will be provided,” Webster said. “We have an agreement in place with the bus company that does the mine bus.”

Each business will be required to look after their own individuals and then where possible the city kicks in to help, Webster added.

Social planning council member Bruce Mack suggested more preparation needs to be done ahead of time to identify areas where some residents may need more help evacuating.

“Earlier discussions with businesses and apartment owners would be better so the city has a sense of where there are places that will need extra help to help get vulnerable people out,” said Mack.