Emily Colombo, the acting manager of the community wildfire recovery branch of the Ministry of Forests, takes down suggestions from Hal Giles, Bill Montgomery and Lindae Hilton at the Cariboo Regional District’s wildfire consultation in Williams Lake on Nov. 1. (Tara Sprickerhoff photo)

CRD consultations hear diverse views on wildfire response in Williams Lake

People encouraged to come to further sessions to be held around Cariboo Chilcotin

About sixty people clambered into the Gibraltar Room on Nov. 1, some carrying notebooks, others picking up information packets from several info tables set up around the room.

They were there for the Cariboo Regional District’s wildfire community consultation in Williams Lake, during which they would have their chance to share their experiences, make suggestions on what could be done better in a similar emergency situation and give feedback to not only the CRD, but all of the other organizations involved in this summer’s wildfire response.

“It’s something we’ve done after a number of events in order to review the event with the people that were impacted,” said CRD Chair Al Richmond.

The consultation was arranged in a group discussion setting, with everyone having the opportunity to give their opinion on a number of topics including evacuations, communication, wildfire fighting, and RCMP.

‘This sort of style which is small group discussions is different than open mic,” said Tim Conrad, a consultant with Butterfly Effect Consultations who ran the meeting.

“In an open mic setting less than 20 per cent of people ever get to speak in that situation so this allows everybody to have a say, whether they have a loud voice or a quiet voice and we want them to have that opportunity. Everyone in the room gets a chance to have their opinion be heard and the challenges they have going forward.”

Among the suggestions in the communications section, was that information should be shared in a means other than online, for folks who struggle with the internet, while another suggestion was to make the CRD’s evacuation maps more mobile friendly.

Suggestions ranged from having hand outs at evacuation stations on the different fires to installing more cell towers.

Others questioned why Williams Lake even had to evacuate.

Sonny Allen attended to speak about the road blocks that happened even before the city evacuated.

“The thing is, I owned a small business on Mackenzie Avenue and for the month of July we couldn’t get any freight, even though we went to the RCMP and the CRD and said look, the equipment that I’ve got in there needs a radiator because the guy wants to go and fight fire.”

He says the response was no.

“They were a little heavy handed as far as I am concerned. There was a lack of concern. It didn’t matter what you said, the answer was a standard no.”

Wayne Biffert attended to find out about fire-smarting his property, and what he could do to try and lessen the chances of his place burning down.

He also had an issue with road blocks.

“Don’t be so paranoid. The people that are going to vandalize are going to vandalize anyhow.”

He also spoke to the need to let local ranchers back onto their property to rescue their cattle.

Shary Stephen came for an entirely different reason.

“I didn’t have a lot of trouble with the way things unfolded and I just wanted to be able to give my support because I know there has been criticism, so I’m just here to support the positive.”

It’s that diversity of opinion that Conrad hopes to hear.

“It is so important to hear [from] the community and how things went for them, because for all of those people that are in the operations side, whatever role that they were in and the multiple agencies that were involved here, they are just going out every day and doing their job and doing the best that they can.

“This is an opportunity to learn if we indeed did those things right and got things right and evidently you will always find out that no, things didn’t go perfect because they don’t go perfect. There are things we can work on to be better in the future so that’s what we really want to do. By listening we can improve.”

Consultations will be coming up on Nov. 4 in Quesnel and at the West Fraser Fire Hall, on Nov. 5 at 150 Mile House and Nov. 6 at the Miocene Community Hall. For more information on the rest of the consultations and where they will be held check out the CRD’s Emergency Operations Centre Facebook page.

Later in November, there will also be a survey that residents can fill out, and Butterfly Effects Consulting will be holding a Facebook Live to reach residents in another way.

“We want you to be heard,” says Conrad.

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