Ashcroft on July 10, very much not evacuated, as this picture of a barbecue put on by the United Steewlorkers shows. Barbara Roden

The Editor’s Desk: When rumours start flying, consider the source

There was a flurry of rumour, speculation, and misinformation during and after the fire.

Did you hear about all the looting going on in Cache Creek while it’s under evacuation order? No? Okay, what about the horse-stealing on the Ashcroft Reserve?

And you must have heard that on Sunday, July 16 members of the RCMP were going door-to-door in Ashcroft, warning that the village was under an evacuation alert, or that residents of Cache Creek could get back in to retrieve things with a police escort, or that we were going to be without Internet for up to eight weeks. All false.

The rumour mill has been in overdrive for the last 12 days, and The Journal has found itself investigating and quashing rumours as quickly as they come to the paper’s attention. It has been like a particularly grim game of Whac-a-Mole: as soon as one rumour is bopped on the head, another one pops up to take its place.

It is easy to understand how and why rumours get started, particularly during the week when Ashcroft was without phones or Internet, and when residents of Cache Creek are far from home and wondering what is going on. Nature abhors a vacuum, and this region has been one big vacuum.

The Journal is fortunate to have direct access to people who are in positions of authority and know what is going on, and realizes that others do not have that same access. However, it would be a good idea—upon hearing these rumours—to take a deep breath and consider the source. Is the person in a position to know these things in an official capacity; say as a first responder, RCMP officer, local government official, or an information officer for the BC Wildfire Service? If not, perhaps reach for the salt before accepting what you hear as the gospel truth.

As frustrating as these local rumours are, however, the most pernicious and upsetting piece of false news was the “fact” that Ashcroft was under an evacuation order as of July 7, and that residents had either evacuated or were in the process of doing so. Many media outlets—including Global News, The Globe and Mail, the CBC, and Radio CHNL in Kamloops—reported this, sometimes for days after the fire broke out.

The result was predictable. People outside the community saw or heard or read this, tried phoning or getting in touch with loved ones via email or social media, and got no answer because the power, Internet, and phone services were out. The result was confusion, fear, and even outright panic as people sought to find out what was happening and where people had gone.

On the evening of July 7 The Journal posted in numerous places—including the paper’s website—that Ashcroft was under evacuation alert only; but other news media failed to pick up on this. It was at first frustrating, and then anger-inducing, to respond to numerous requests from frightened people enquiring after loved ones, knowing that the panic could have been avoided if other media outlets had done a little researching and fact-checking before filing their stories and reporting something that was simply not true.

It may be a cliché, but when hearing rumours—especially at a fraught time when people are on edge—consider the source. And big news media? Do some basic fact-checking. The local paper is a good place to start.