BC Wildfires 2021  

Wildfires destroyed 343 homes in B.C. this past summer

343 homes destroyed by fire

This past fire season in British Columbia was particularly destructive, with 343 homes lost to fires.

Much of the damage occurred in and around the Thompson-Okanagan, with dozens of homes destroyed by the White Rock Lake fire, near Westside Road and in the Monte Lake area. With 496,983 hectares burned, it was the worst season on record for the Kamloops Fire Centre, which includes the entire Thompson-Okanagan region.

The hardest hit region was Lytton, where a wildfire rolled through the village on June 30, decimating the vast majority of buildings. Two people were killed in the fire.

Many residents of the village remain scattered across the province, with no home to return to.

“Not since the floods in Grand Forks has an emergency displaced so many for so long,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for B.C.'s Emergency Preparedness

“Our shared desire is that everyone gets to rebuild quickly. But I know from past experiences that we are only at the beginning of that process. We know that rebuilding Lytton and other heavily affected areas will take time, and the Province will continue to be here to offer our support as we tackle this together.”

Logan Lake almost faced the same fate as Lytton, as the Tremont Creek wildfire bore down on the municipality in mid-August, forcing the evacuation of the entire district.

But due to heroic efforts from local firefighters, and a FireSmart program dating back years, no buildings were hit by the massive fire.

Rice says the province has handed out 365 FireSmart grants totalling more than $37 million to local governments in the past three years. The funding deadline for 2022 projects is Oct. 8.

“Individual British Columbians need to play a role in mitigating wildfire risks around their homes and properties by undertaking FireSmart initiatives,” Rice added. “In speaking with firefighters and communities, these measures often make the difference. You're not only protecting your own property, you're protecting your neighbour's too.”

Emergency Social Services Reception Centre in Vernon issued referrals worth $3.9 million

$3.9M issued through ESS

Close to $4 million was issued to evacuees through the Emergency Social Services Reception Centre in Vernon during the White Rock Lake wildfire.

The centre allocated 9,988 local hotel/motel rooms and issued 8,797 service vouchers (referrals) for evacuees to access meals or groceries, clothing, incidentals, gas and billeting.

The provincially funded referrals totalled $3.9 million.

The ESS opened on Aug. 1 to support wildfire evacuees.

During 40 days of continuous operation, the reception centre provided service to almost 3,000 evacuees from numerous jurisdictions, including Okanagan Indian Band, Lytton First Nation, the regional districts of North Okanagan, Central Okanagan, Thompson Nicola, Central Kootenay, the Township of Spallumcheen, Village of Lytton, and District of Logan Lake.

The activation was supported by more than 150 City of Vernon ESS volunteers and by staff from multiple divisions. Volunteers from the Canadian Red Cross, SPCA, Salvation Army and other non-government organizations also provided assistance.

The fire was first reported July 13 and would go on to burn more than 83,000 hectares and destroy dozens of homes.

The fire stretched from the Okanagan to Monte Lake and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

RDCO to provide YouTube update on White Rock Lake wildfire recovery efforts

Fire recovery update

Residents impacted by the White Rock Lake wildfire are invited to tune in for a YouTube update from the Regional District of Central Okanagan.

The event will be streamed live through the RDCO YouTube channel at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

This is the first of regular updates scheduled to take place every second Tuesday.

Staff and consultants will be providing information on water, waste programs, area assessments, rebuilding programs and social supports.

Residents can submit questions they’d like to have addressed by emailing [email protected].

If you can't watch in real time, the session will also be recorded and posted at youtube.com/regionaldistrict.

Those affected by the fire can also sign up for wildfire recovery updates through the regional district website.

Craftsman Collision helped raise $31,266 for those impacted by wildfires

$31K raised for fire victims

Craftsman Collision has helped raise more than $30,000 for those impacted by this year's brutal wildfire season.

A two-week fundraising campaign was set in motion in mid-August through Craftsman’s social media channels, Okanagan media outlets and Craftsman employees. The campaign raised $15,833 in contributions for the Canadian Red Cross' BC Wildfire Appeal campaign. Craftsman Collision is matching the donations to help those directly affected by the fires in the communities where Craftsman does business.

"As a proud Canadian brand, Craftsman has been committed to supporting our local communities for more than four decades," said Rick Hatswell, President.

"In these unprecedented times, we are continuing to give back in the best way we can, while encouraging others to do the same. We were thrilled with the results of our matching campaign which raised a total of $31,266 for the Red Cross who have worked so tirelessly supporting British Columbians affected by the devastating wildfires this summer.”

Craftsman Collision’s partnership with the Canadian Red Cross is one of many initiatives the company has helped support in Western Canada during the pandemic. Their partnerships include a $50,000 donation to Lions Gate Hospital Foundation, $15,000 sponsorship to the Salvation Army Hope in the City Breakfast, $10,000 sponsorship to the JDRF Rockin’ for Research Gala, $10,000 presenting sponsorship of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 50/50 raffle and many other local charities from hockey teams to school auctions to food banks.

“Craftsman Collision over the years has given over $1.7 million to charities big and small," said Stacy Cook, marketing manager with Craftsman Collision.

"We feel being philanthropic is a great opportunity to help foster a positive work environment for our team, where they can be proud to say they work for Craftsman and it creates strong personal connections with our customers while inspiring others to give to causes they are passionate about."

Bear nearly eats cat, gets away with a bag of garbage

Cat saved from bear

A Westside Road resident says it was a close call for her neighbour’s cat.

She and her partner, who live in the Westshore Estates area, were recently driving by when they spotted a black bear that had cornered the kitty. They turned their vehicle around and started yelling to scare the bear off.

They also warned a girl who was walking her dog nearby because they were worried she might startle the animal.

The bruin they nicknamed Alf has been frequenting the area, along with a bigger bear they call Shaq, ever since residents returned following the lifting of the month-long evacuation order issued during the White Rock Lake wildfire.

Eventually, the couple managed to scare the bear away, but it made off with a bag of garbage in its jaws.

They are urging their neighbours to not leave garbage outside. That has been a challenge, as people whose homes were damaged during the fire clean up their properties.

Castanet was contacted earlier this week by a North Westside resident who was upset someone dumped their appliances, full of spoiled food, outside an empty lot in Westshore Estates.

The Regional District of Central Okanagan had been picking up fridges and freezers that were contaminated during the evacuation order.

That service ended and the next opportunity to drop them off will be during the Bulky Household Item Collection at the North Westside transfer station during its regular operating days and hours, from Oct. 6 to 20.

RDCO has also extended the hours at the North Westside Road transfer station for property owners affected by the White Rock Lake Wildfire. The transfer station is open daily from 8 a.m. until noon until Thursday, September 30. The facility will return to normal operating hours on October 1.

TRU study recommends revamped communications for wildfire service

Changes needed at BCWS?

A Thompson Rivers University study of the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons has resulted in a number of suggestions to improve BC Wildfire Service communications.

TRU professor Michael Mehta led the investigation that started in 2019 and finished in June.

According to TRU, the study did not take into account the devastating 2021 fire season.

The 89-page document, titled "A life cycle based model to risk and crisis communication during wildfire events in British Columbia," was jointly funded by the BCWS, Canada Wildfire and TRU.

The study looks at existing risk communications and crisis communications models being used by wildfire organizations and offers six recommendations.

The university said it is working closely with BCWS to address and find solutions for challenges in emergency situations like wildfires.

“Over the last three years, we’ve made significant investments in research and innovation,” said Ian Meier, executive director of BCWS.

“We are committed to fostering a learning culture within our organization and it is exciting to begin to see results and recommendations for the future.”

The report highlights possible improvements in communications before, during and after wildfire events. It also looks at the impact of emergency events across agency jurisdictions.

In addition to the BCWS, researchers also consulted with Emergency Management BC, with First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, Simpcw First Nation, the City of Kamloops and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Recommendations outlined include organizations making the distinction between risk and crisis communications, and putting a focus the safety and mental health of affected individuals and communities.

“We hope that this report provides useful information to emergency management organizations across B.C. and elsewhere to reduce the risk from wildfires and other disasters,” Mehta said.

White Rock Lake wildfire estimated to have caused $77 million in insured damages

Fire's $77M insurance hit

The White Rock Lake wildfire that scorched a broad swath of the Southern Interior this summer and destroyed dozens of homes is estimated to have caused $77 million in insured damages.

In a post on the Insurance Bureau of Canada website, vice-president Aaron Sutherland says more than 800 insurance claims are expected from the fire.

The majority of claims are related to residential properties, according to initial estimates from Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc.

"Canada's insurers are here to help the residents of Killiney Beach, Monte Lake and other areas impacted by the White Rock Lake wildfire recover and rebuild following the devastation it has caused," Sutherland said in the statement.

"Anyone who has been impacted by this event, or has questions about their home, vehicle or business insurance, should call their insurance representative or IBC's Consumer Information Centre at 1-844-2ask-IBC."

The IBC the wildfires that devastated British Columbia this summer and "are a tragic reminder of the increasing risk facing communities across the province, and country, from a changing climate. As our climate changes, the frequency and severity of weather events like wildfire are increasing, as are the financial costs borne by insurers and taxpayers."

The bureau says governments at all levels must do more to protect communities.

"As we continue to see the increasing impacts of our changing climate, it's clear much more must be done to create a culture of preparedness and build our resiliency to the risks we face," said Sutherland.

"We all must do better to prepare for wildfires, floods, heat, hail and windstorms. These perils are having an outsized impact on those most vulnerable and, as a result, we must greatly enhance our efforts to mitigate future change and adapt to the new weather reality we face."

The White Rock Lake fire burned more than 83,000 hectares, destroying structures on the west shore of Okanagan Lake and in Monte Lake.

Collection of bulky household items extended in wake of White Rock Lake wildfire

Westside cleanup extended

Collection of bulky household items has been extended for North Westside residents in the wake of the White Rock Lake wildfire.

The bulky item collection event is held twice a year, in spring and fall, at the North Westside Road Transfer Station on Sugar Loaf Mountain Forest Service Road.

This fall's collection has been extended an extra week to help residents in recovery mode after evacuations during the fire.

Pickup runs Oct. 6 through 20 at the transfer station.

There is a cost of $20 per truckload – cash or cheques only.

The transfer station can receive appliances, scrap metal, lawn mowers and other motorized parts, household and lawn furniture.

Hazardous material (including computers and electronics) and demolition waste such as wood from damaged structures or burned vehicles cannot be accepted.

Fridges and freezers will be accepted at no charge, but must be emptied of all contents.

The event is open only to RDCO residents, property owners and tenants with a valid ID card.

The transfer station is open Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Penticton ESS demobilizes after ten weeks of wildfire response

Ten weeks supporting fires

A difficult summer of wildfires in the South Okanagan kept the Penticton Emergency Support Services running for ten weeks while hundreds of properties were evacuated and on alert.

ESS worked to support BC Wildfires Services response over the summer and officially demobilized on Monday.

Activation for the centre began on Sunday, July 11, 2021 to support evacuees impacted by the Thomas Creek Wildfire near Okanagan Falls. The wildfire spread across the hills behind the town and kept on burning for over a month.

The last task was focused on providing support for White Rock Lake Wildfire evacuees over this past weekend.

Penticton ESS’ work isn’t done yet however, working with Emergency Management BC, municipalities and First Nations across the southern interior, and local businesses over the next few months to support several families who remain in the Penticton area as they continue to be unable to return home.

“On behalf of Council and all our residents, I extend a whole-hearted thanks to the ESS team and volunteers for their hard work and long hours helping those in need during this summer’s challenging wildfire season,” Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki said in a press release.

“If it wasn’t for ESS, along with all wildfire crews, our overall response would not have been effective. All residents of Penticton, and elsewhere, greatly appreciate the ESS team for their assistance, preparation and professionalism.”

Survivor's guilt a normal response, says OKIB counsellor, in wake of destructive wildfire

Survivor's guilt after fire

Driving down Westside Road, Jayna Pooley says she felt a growing sense of anxiety when she saw the destruction caused by the White Rock Lake wildfire.

It was Sept. 7, and she was returning to her Okanagan Indian Band community after spending a month living with family out of town – one of hundreds of evacuees ordered to leave their homes.

Pooley lives in the Naswhito Creek area, which was particularly devastated by the fire – losing 10 homes and two businesses.

Once parked at her home, she says she got out of her vehicle and looked around at what remained of her neighbourhood – the charred community store, the blackened grasses and trees, and the homes where neighbours used to wave from – before falling to her knees and crying.

Pooley says she’s been wrestling with “survivor’s guilt” since she returned.

Lovanda Beliveau, a mental health counsellor for the OKIB, says such guilt is a normal response.

“With survivor’s guilt, it tends to be someone that puts the needs of others in front of their own. They are very empathetic people, it’s people that want to take away the pain,” says Beliveau.

Beliveau facilitates a weekly Wellness “Walk and Talk” virtual event to help members learn more about processing emotions. She says moving through trauma takes time.

“It’s important to remember to take time to process what happened and to go ahead and grieve, grieve the losses, grieve the land, and the memories. You’re not going to look at the land the same way. You won’t look at the community the same way. This is a deeply tragic event that went on,” says Beliveau.

“We don’t get over things, we go through them. So to go through them we must process, and go ahead and feel them, and sometimes the feelings are quite painful and we don’t want to, but our feelings are important. Feelings are guidance.”

Pooley says she’s reached out for help and hopes others will also take advantage of resources like counselling.

“That’s part of our healing and our responsibility is to take care of it. It’s learning how to get through the grieving process without taking on the blame,” she says. “It’s a really tough thing to get through.”

Pooley plans to delay reopening her business for at least a month, out of respect for her neighbours, and wants to avoid attracting people from outside the community as folks recover.

“I know I wouldn’t want anyone lurking and looking in on me if my home and business was destroyed,” she says. “We do need that time and that space to regroup, to grieve, and to start the healing process in our own community.”

She says there aren’t enough words to thank all the firefighters, particularly those in the Okanagan Indian Band’s fire department. “How do you put a cape on that big of a hero?” she asks.

“Fire is cleansing, and we all need to learn that this is a cleansing time for us. Anything that was old that wasn’t serving us, let it be those ashes, let it blow away, and let’s start new.”

She sees this as an “opportunity for unity.”

“We will be the Phoenix that rises through these ashes. We’re going to do it together.”

– Indiginews

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