Evacuees need to be aware, when they return home, that power outages and the use of chemical retardant are just two of many things that could affect the safety of their food and water.                                Matti J. Lagerborn

Evacuees need to be aware, when they return home, that power outages and the use of chemical retardant are just two of many things that could affect the safety of their food and water. Matti J. Lagerborn

Returning evacuees need to think safety first for food, water, and more

Make sure your water source is safe, and that food is not contaminated. When in doubt, throw it out.

Now that officials have determined that it is safe for residents of Cache Creek to return to their homes, there are important tips they should be aware of in regards to health and safety.

Power outages and fire retardants may have affected the quality of the water and the safety of food. The impact on those returning will vary acåçcording to individual situations, but all evacuees are advised to take steps to ensure their food and water is safe.

Prior to moving anything or throwing damaged items away, it is a good idea to take photographs to document the damage for insurance purposes.

Residents on a community water system should direct questions about the quality of the drinking water to the local water supplier (e.g. municipality, utility provider, etc.). These suppliers are best able to assess how their systems have been affected and whether there is any impact on the quality of drinking water.

If you cannot reach your water supplier and are unsure if your water has been impacted, it is recommended that you use an alternate source (bottled water).

LIVE: Returning to Cache Creek:

Community water systems where fire retardant was used in their watershed area will have increased monitoring for changes in water quality. Public notifications will be issued if there is some level of risk or uncertainty associated with drinking water use.

Residents on smaller systems or individual wells who suspect that their water supply has been affected by the fire should use an alternative source of drinking water until the water source can be assessed or tested. You may need to evaluate the quality of the tap water and find an alternate source, such as bottled water, until your water supply has been confirmed to be safe.

Private surface and ground water sources affected by fire retardant application should be tested to ensure compliance with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Sample bottles can be provided by water testing laboratories. For information on having your private water source tested, please refer to the list of Provincial Health Officer Approved Drinking Water Testing Laboratories at http://bit.ly/2u5NKTt or check your telephone directory’s yellow pages under Laboratories – Analytical.

If the power has been out in your home or if you have been evacuated for a prolonged period (more than five days), the food in your fridge or freezer may no longer be safe to eat. Also, food can be damaged by heat, smoke, ash, soot, water, and possible chemical residues. The following tips will help you determine if food has been affected.

The main concerns are power outages that affect temperature control of food. You can monitor temperatures using thermometers:

Refrigerated foods must be under 4 degrees Celsius and frozen food must be at least -18 degrees Celsius or less. A full chest freezer will keep food frozen for up to two days, while a half-full chest freezer will keep food frozen for up to one day. A cooler or fridge will keep food cold for four hours.

If you don’t have a thermometer or if you don’t know how long your fridge or freezer was without power, check the products in the fridge for spoilage and souring. Look for:

Milk and other dairy products that have spoiled/become sour. Spoiled dairy products are a good indicator that the fridge has been off and all food should be discarded.

Ice cream that has thawed and refrozen is a good indicator that the freezer has been off.

Fish products that smell bad upon thawing are also a sign that food in your freezer has thawed and refrozen.

Frozen foods that have thawed must be discarded, as they may no longer be safe to eat. Once thawed, food should not be refrozen.

Food in the freezer that has (or may have) reached 4 degrees Celsius or warmer should be discarded and must not be refrozen.

Clean and disinfect your fridge or freezer once you have discarded the spoiled food.

Remember: if in doubt — throw it out. Do not take any chances with the safety of your food.

Clean and disinfect any intact cans of food before opening to make sure the contents are not contaminated.

If there has been an extended power outage, you may wish to contact your insurance provider to discuss what losses are covered. Make a list of items discarded and photograph those items (if possible) for insurance purposes.

During fires, some components of septic systems may be damaged. If your property was directly impacted by fire your septic system should be assessed by a Registered Onsite Wastewater Practitioner (ROWP). To find an ROWP in your area go to http://owrp.asttbc.org/c/finder.php.

Power outages will also cause the circulation and treatment systems of pools and hot tubs to stop working. Private pool owners should ensure adequate disinfection (chlorine levels) and circulation prior to using the pool. Commercial pools may be closed temporarily as operators rebalance their chemicals.

For more information on health and safety considerations and tips for cleanup view the document “After a Fire – Returning Home” on the Interior Health Emergency Preparedness webpage (http://bit.ly/2vfr3Mt).

To contact an environmental health officer for questions regarding food and water safety please call 1-855-744-6328 option 1.

For your drive home, local authorities may specify a safe route or routes. Follow their directions, including road closures and other signage, and avoid shortcuts.

As you arrive, it’s important to obey all signage and understand Damage Assessment Placards: notices that local governments place on buildings within a damaged area to indicate whether a structure is suitable for re-entry, access is restricted, or it is unsafe to enter entirely.

More information on these placards is at www.bchousing.org.

If you can only enter your home once, remove valuables and take steps to secure your property. If you’re safely able to return for longer:

Bring supplies like flashlights, tools, drinking water, gloves, garbage bags, and a first aid kit.

Walk around the perimeter before entering, noting electrical wiring, any gas smell, or any debris that could fall. Enter cautiously and check that the main power breaker is off.

Only use generators outdoors; do not connect to a household circuit.

Note sewage and water damage; your septic system or sump pump may not work without power, and water may not be potable (that is, may not be safe to consume).

Do not use your sewage disposal system unless you know it’s capable of handling waste.

If using propane, gas, or heating oil, contact suppliers for inspection and service.

Review your insurance policy to understand what items to list, then take an inventory for your claim. Take photos or videos, noting serial numbers if possible and the approximate cost. Notify your mortgage company and inform them about restoration of your property.

If you have questions about your home insurance, call your insurance representative.

Your insurance policy may cover house-cleaning by a fire restoration specialist. If you are going to clean your residence yourself, wear gloves and goggles, keep children and pets away, and thoroughly ventilate the area you’re cleaning. You may need to clean everything several times to remove smoke odours.

Vacuum all surfaces, change heating and air conditioning filters, and have ducts cleaned.

Soot or smoke can be removed from painted walls with trisodium phosphate. Dispose of hazardous materials like solvents if they show signs of damage.

If your home can be repaired, look for a reputable contractor to help with restoration. Verify the track record of any roofer or builder, dealing only with licensed contractors.

Contact your local authority about submitting plans and getting a building permit. Damage to utilities must be repaired under permit and inspected.

Ask for a written estimate and, before work begins, a copy of the final, signed contract. Pay only by cheque or credit card; consider a holdback that’s payable upon completion.

If you live in a First Nations community, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is able to cover the costs of repairing homes and buildings, as identified in recovery plans submitted by the local First Nations government. If private insurance is in place, generally that coverage comes first; where there is no insurance, the INAC recovery plan takes effect.

If you have livestock that has been relocated, contact your local government Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) regarding number and location of relocated livestock.

Inspect your farm for hazards and damage, secure the site, and contact your insurance provider. Assess the situation to determine if you have the ability to feed, water, shelter, and safely contain your livestock. Take care to avoid hazards.

Assess the condition and safety of buildings, equipment and other infrastructure, and check on the status of stored fuels and other hazardous materials.

Evaluate and document damage to equipment, structures, and fences, ensuring the integrity of fences before livestock is returned. Animals should not be returned to your farm until the evacuation alert is lifted.

If your animals have been sheltered in place or have been freed, consider all the recommendations above.

Locate and determine your remaining animals’ health and condition and provide food, water, and safety. Determine your capacity to continue to provide these essentials, and arrange more if necessary (for example, through your local government).

Document any loss of livestock, farm buildings, fences, or equipment. Notify your local government EOC of any large numbers of injured or dead animals.

If only temporary re-entry is permitted and animals have been sheltered in place or freed, stay aware of hazards in your area and follow any instructions from your local officials.

Locate and determine the health and condition of your remaining animals; provide them with food, water, and safety, and determine your ability to continue to meet their needs.

Determine whether you need to relocate or free animals. If there are large numbers of injured or dead animals, notify your local government EOC.