Close to 80 people attended a community meeting in Ashcroft on August 2, to hear updates about what is being done by community members and council in the aftermath of the Elephant Hill wildfire, which started south of Ashcroft on July 6.
Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes thanked everyone for coming to what he hoped would be a “positive” meeting that would accomplish things. Sandy Agatiello, who is part of a group spearheading various community initiatives, said they have started to put a community plan in place so that the Village is more prepared in the event of a disaster. One of the initiatives is a neighbourhood phone/people tree, in order to get information out quickly.
Agatiello added that she hoped the group would be able to work with council. Deb Tuohey said she hoped that council would be able to appoint a member to the committee, to work with those involved, and Jeyes replied that council would have to adopt such a motion.
Members of the audience noted the need for an incident commander and muster stations, asked about the role of the police (Jeyes replied that they were busy evacuating people in Cache Creek on July 7), and wondered if the siren at the fire hall could be utilized in case of an emergency. “Not without power,” said Ashcroft fire chief Josh White.
Cindy Skakun, who has emergency training, noted that an Emergency Operations Centre needs to be set up properly, and that people there need training. “It has to be a grassroots system. It’s not just council or us. It’s a community project.”
It was noted that as far as an incident commander goes, it was not just a question of appointing someone: that person needs training. Jeyes said that anyone interested could take the training so that they were qualified. An audience member suggested that having more than one person trained as an incident commander would be a good idea, especially in summer when people are away.
Agatiello pointed out that no one could get communications out in the immediate aftermath of the fire. “It’s not a blame thing. Everyone needs to help everyone in town. Let’s get organized and let’s move on.”
Someone noted that perhaps each block in town could have one person who goes to every house in the block to communicate information if other sources are not available.
Regarding the use of the siren at the fire hall, Jeyes—noting that council had had a thorough debriefing session the week before to discuss the fire and its aftermath—said that council had discussed it.
“It [the siren] doesn’t tell what the emergency is, and could send people in the wrong direction, so that concerns me.”
He added that a couple of vehicles (not firetrucks) with loud-hailers might be a good idea, with people following up door-to-door. “But the message must be consistent.”
It was asked how to improve egress from some areas, such as the Mesa subdivision, which only have one road in and out.
Jeyes replied that council and staff are examining the village’s Official Community Plan right now, along with the subdivision and zoning bylaws. “It wasn’t something that was looked at then with the Mesa, but it will be now.”
Deb Tuohey asked about muster stations. White noted that there was a difference between a muster station and an information centre. “Activating a muster station in town [in the case of a disaster] scares me,” he said. “A muster station should be out of town. The fact that there was no communications or power scared people, but there was no incident in town.”
Jeyes said that council has already taken several steps in response to concerns that have been raised. These include building a fire break behind houses on the Mesa subdivision; ordering signs (one of which was displayed at the meeting) that can be put around town in the event of an emergency, giving details about where an information centre is located; ordering sandwich boards that can be deployed around town in the event of a power outage, so that residents can be aware the village has gone to Stage 4 water restrictions (fire suppression and essential use only); and developing a policy that will call for a public meeting within 48 to 72 hours after an emergency.
He said that the Village is also looking into the provision of back-up power via generators for the fire hall, the Village Office, and the pump stations taking water to the North Ashcroft and Mesa reservoirs in the event of another power failure.