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Regional District hosts Penticton emergency preparedness town hall

Click to play video: 'Local officials discuss emergency preparedness'
Local officials discuss emergency preparedness
WATCH: Emergency response organizations gathered in Penticton on Monday, in hopes of better preparing the community ahead of the upcoming wildfire season. Taya Fast has more – Apr 29, 2024

Local emergency organizations and officials took time on Monday to familiarize the public with procedures ahead of what could be another busy wildfire season.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) hosted an emergency preparedness town hall in Penticton, B.C., with representatives from local government, Okanagan Nation Alliance and relevant agencies.

“It is important to note that providing information during a wildfire is one of the responsibilities that emergency organizations take on,” said RDOS Communications and Engagement manager Erick Thompson.

“It’s important that all partners including residents, visitors and the media know where and when they can find the latest updates.”

Click to play video: 'Okanagan Responders Gratitude Event in West Kelowna'
Okanagan Responders Gratitude Event in West Kelowna

Looking ahead

Even with a number of wildfires already burning across the province, Nicole Bonnett, BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) community engagement specialist, says it is still too early to tell what exactly this season could hold for the Okanagan.

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“What we’re still watching for is what happens with the May / June weather. Anytime we can get a reasonable amount of precipitation during May and June months, it can really set us up to look a little bit more successful as far as the potential for fire starts,” said Bonnett.

“But we are carrying a little bit of that compounding drought over the last couple of years. So, there’s still quite a bit of potential out there.”

How to report a wildfire

The BC Wildfire Service app allows users to report a wildfire with a photograph.

According to Bonnett, the photo is geo-tagged to allow BCWS members to find exactly where the photo was taken and what direction it is pointing.

“The Okanagan is no stranger to a lot of tourism in the summer, that is a big part of the local economy, so for anybody who’s coming to the area that’s not super familiar with the geographics…. those photos are hugely helpful,” said Bonnett.

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“Our ops team can make the decision about where they’re going to deploy resources and how resources get allocated – if you as a member of the public aren’t super confident in what you’re seeing like smoke, activity-wise, smoke colour-wise, those pictures really help them make a determination as to what’s going on the ground.”

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Aside from the BCWS app, residents can also call *5555 to report a suspected wildfire.

Click to play video: 'Okanagan crews battle several new wildfires'
Okanagan crews battle several new wildfires

How to prepare for an emergency

Currently BCWS is focused on getting prepared for the season, with training and connecting with local governments.

“So that everybody is up to speed on any changes that have been made on that local government level over the winter, at the BC Wildfire over the winter,” Bonnett added.

While officials jump into action, the RDOS advises that the community does their part in preparing now as well.

Shane Houlihan, RDOS emergency program coordinator, recommends residents build a grab-and-go bag for the entire family and pets as well as make an emergency plan.

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“I would recommend everyone to do is go to preparedbc.ca, they have a guidance on how to build a plan and how to prepare your family,” said Houlihan.

“A grab-and-go bag should ensure that your family is safe, secure and comfortable for the first 72 hours after an emergency first occurs.”

Brittany Siebert, RDOS emergency services manager, added that now is also a good time to fire-smart your property.

As ember cast is one of the number one ignition sources that could result in property loss or damage during a wildfire.

“We do recommend, to reduce their impact or vulnerability to wildfire, is to look at the cleanliness of the roofs, cleanliness of their gutters,” said Siebert.

“Look at the vegetation that is around your homes. We want to be harbouring plants that are more fire-resilient, so looking for a more broad leaf and type greens versus our conifer type vegetation.”

Click to play video: 'Early start to fire season in B.C. interior'
Early start to fire season in B.C. interior

Evacuation alerts and orders

When an emergency occurs, like a wildfire, local government in conjunction with BC Wildfire may issue an evacuation alert or an evacuation order depending on the severity of the situation.

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“During an alert, we highly recommend people take that time to establish their emergency plan if they haven’t — so that if they do have to leave that they’re prepared to go,” said Siebert.

“The order means that you are at threat and that the hazard has grown into an immediate safety issue for residents, and we are asking you to leave the area to allow safety for residents but also to allow responders to work into the area.”

Thompson noted that last season, there were situations where homes were under an evacuation order and residents did not leave due to security concerns.

“Once issued an evacuation order we actually are taking on the responsibility of securing that property. We do take the necessary steps to ensure the security of the neighbourhoods and the communities while under evacuation orders,” said Siebert.

“That includes hiring security organizations to manage checkpoints, working with RCMP — sometimes we work with our bylaw officers, as well.”

According to Siebert, another common occurrence last season was when homeowners would leave their sprinkler systems on while evacuated.

Residents are asked to turn off their sprinkler systems, when away from home.

Where to find information:

  • Local governments
  • Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen
  • BC Wildfire Service
  • Local media outlets
Click to play video: 'Wildfire training in the South Okanagan'
Wildfire training in the South Okanagan

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