The last 10 days have seen multiple evacuation alerts and evacuation orders put in place in the region due to large, out of control wildfires. While no one wants to think about an evacuation alert or order, it’s important to know what they are and to be prepared for them.
Evacuation alerts and orders are put in place by local governments on the advice of experts such as the BC Wildfire Service. Note that First Nations are local governments, and are the ones who determine whether there is an alert or order on Band land. Know where to go to check for alerts and orders, depending on where you live.
An evacuation alert means that residents in the affected area should be ready to leave quickly, as there is potential danger. This is the time to get prepared to leave your home on short notice: get your grab-and-go bags ready (they should include several days of clothing, toiletries, and all medications), your emergency plan, copies of important documents, and precious mementos and keepsakes. Listen to local emergency officials for further information on the situation.
If you have pets, make sure their carriers are in a place where you can get to them quickly and easily. Don’t forget their food, a water bowl, and any medications they need.
Make sure you have a plan in place about what to do if there is an evacuation order when members of your family are in different places. Designate a spot where everyone knows to go to, as phone communication might not be possible during an emergency.
If you have a friend, neighbour, or family member without transportation, check with them to see what plans they have in case of an evacuation order.
Keep your vehicle(s) fueled up. In 2017, many Ashcroft residents found themselves nearly out of gas when a power outage meant that gas was unobtainable here, and Cache Creek was evacuated and inaccessible. Some of those who were forced to leave Lytton at short notice last week found themselves without enough gas to make it from Lytton to the next community with a gas station.
Keep some cash on hand. Again, in 2017 many local businesses could only accept cash, as their credit/debit machines were inoperable, as were ATMs.
Keep devices (cellphones, tablets) charged up. Have charging cables in your grab-and-go bag. If you have back-up chargers, make sure they’re fully charged. A solar-powered charger is a good item to have on hand in case of a power outage.
An evacuation order means danger is imminent and you must leave immediately. Follow the directions of local emergency officials and evacuate using the route(s) they have identified. Do not return home until you have been advised that the evacuation order has been rescinded. The decision to rescind an evacuation alert or order is made by local officials when they have determined that the situation is currently safe.
A state of local emergency — which is issued by a local government — does not necessarily mean that an evacuation alert or order has been put in place. It allows local governments to access more assistance in dealing with an emergency, amongst other things.
If your area is under an evacuation alert, and that alert turns into an order while you are out of the area, you do not get to return to your home to gather anything, no matter how prepared you might be. If you have to travel out of your area for any reason — work, school, shopping — take essential items with you in case the situation changes quickly.
If you are advised to check in at a reception centre for Emergency Support Services (ESS), do so, even if you do not need immediate assistance with accommodation and food vouchers. Registering with ESS means that people know where you are and that you are safe, and can get in touch with you with important information.
Wildfire updates can be found on the BC Wildfire Service website at http://bit.ly/2HCKBod. The status of active wildfires is updated regularly, but not in real time. Wildfires that are easy to see from populated areas and/or which threaten communities or structures are referred to as “Wildfires of Note”, and the site will contain more information about them, including what resources are being deployed and what evacuation alerts and orders are in place in relation to them.
Don’t be scared: be prepared, and stay safe.