Firefighters and city officials are hard at work to update their emergency evacuation plan after this summer's chaotic wildfire season.
For nearly three weeks from August 16 to September 4, the City of Kimberley was placed on an evacuation ALERT as the Meachen Creek wildfire continued to grow southwest of the community. The area in the St. Mary Lake valley was under an evacuation ORDER during much of this time.
Fire Chief Rick Prasad says they had a solid plan in place for how to handle situations like this.
"But the actual reality of putting that plan in motion is a different animal altogether. There's a lot of things to consider when there's an ALERT on, including people that may need help, how you're going to keep the city running in one way, shape, or form, how you're going to keep your fire department going, how you're going to look after your infrastructure."
Kimberley's firefighters wanted to ensure every single resident knew about the evacuation ALERT, so they went door-to-door to all of the city's 4,500 homes and delivered the notices in person.
One thing Prasad admits they had not fully considered is that as many as 200 people, due to either age, disability, or illness, would not have been able to leave town on their own.
He says they were able to get plans in place for if the ALERT got upgraded to an evacuation ORDER, but going forward, he believes they need to be better prepared.
The Kimberley Fire Department is now actively working with the City of Kimberley, Regional District of East Kootenay, and others to add to and enhance their emergency plans.
"It goes all the way from how you're going to deal with people who can't get out on their own, it talks about how you're going to communicate, it gives you some ideas on the directions people might have to travel. You also have little things like, what does the handout say? Who's going to manage the list of people that are needing assistance?"
Prasad says one of the best things to come out of the whole situation was getting to work with the community group on the ski hill and the way they were able to relay any important information to all of the nearby residents.
"It sure speeds up information sharing as far as, you know, in a situation like an emergency evacuation. It also allows us to work with those communities on certain projects like Fire Smart for instance."
He hopes to establish other community groups throughout Kimberley in the near future.
Prasad adds that it might still take some time before the updated emergency plan is ready to go.
- David Opinko
Audio: Rick Prasad, Fire Chief, Kimberley Fire Department