Wildfire Emergency Alerts

Janet Moje
Wildfire Emergency Alerts

In the last article, we looked closer at the FireSmart program requirements and the benefits it brings to a community. In this article, we will consider evacuation alerts and the preparation required.

In the event of a wildfire, we are all well aware that should the risk become unsafe, the residents will be ordered to evacuate. What we may not be aware of is when possible, an evacuation alert is issued to give residents time to get ready.

The purpose of an alert is to not only provide the time to prepare to leave, but to inform residents of the hazard itself; its boundaries, evacuation routes, support services available and support locations. It is vital that you get your information from reliable sources that provide accurate facts.

During an emergency, DO NOT RELY on social media such as a facebook post which can often be speculation or assumption.

Anita de Dreu, Emergency Services Coordinator of the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George explains, “When putting the public on Alert… we have to consider all aspects. The main priority is to evacuate the public safely… so we provide as much notice as we possibly can, to allow the public to get ready in case we have to upgrade to an Order. Some situations don’t provide us with the luxury of time.”

If there is no alert and only an evacuation order, you won’t have time to prepare to leave. An evacuation order means LEAVE NOW. Gather your family, your pets, and go. The good news is, there is much you can do ahead of time to be ready for such a situation.

How to Prepare

First: Employ FireSmart principles to prepare your property before the threat of a wildfire arrives.

rooftop sprinkler
rooftop sprinkler

Second: Install roof sprinklers. There are different kinds, some hook onto your eavestroughs, others sit on the roof peak. They can range in price from $130-$300 but are well worth the investment. Use them an hour a day during fire season to keep up the humidity on your roof and around your house.

eaves trough sprinkler
eaves trough sprinkler

Third: Prepare your emergency supplies. Place them inside a suitcase or wheeled plastic tub. It is also a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car at all times.

  • 3 day supply of non-perishable food per person
  • A complete change of seasonal clothing per person
  • First aid kit
  • Portable radio and flashlight / extra batteries
  • Small amount of cash
  • Medications / Baby supplies
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Pet supplies
  • Financial and personal documents
  • Sleeping bag or blankets
  • Wet towels / masks to breathe through in case of heavy smoke
  • Cell phone and charger
  • A whistle

Update your emergency supplies at the beginning of each season; check expiry dates on food, change out water and clothing, refresh batteries as needed.

Your preparation time to evacuate may be very short and it can be extremely stressful. Having your emergency bag ready means you only need to grab it and go and you will effectively remove the stress of finding or forgetting anything.

When you receive an evacuation alert

  • Fill your vehicle’s tank to use up any emergency fuel you have on hand before topping up at a gas station.
  • Pack your vehicle with your grab-and-go emergency supplies.
  • !! Be ready to leave immediately !!
  • If sufficient water is available, turn roof sprinklers on.
  • Close all the doors and windows in your home. Remove flammable drapes, curtains, awnings or other window coverings. This will reduce the risk of fire gaining a foothold in your home.
  • Keep lights on to aid visibility in case smoke fills the house.
  • Arrange an emergency contact outside of your area and let them know your status, your target destination, and how often you will update them if able.

Considerations for pets/livestock

It is best if you can take all your pets with you, but if that is impossible, place a highly-visible sign in your window for rescue workers that lists how many animals are left behind, with a description of each. Leave plenty of water and dry food. Do not tether or cage your animals as they have a better chance of survival if they can escape.

For the pets you take with you, have an emergency kit ready. Things to include:

  • 7 day food and water supply per pet / bowls
  • ID tag and collar, leash/harness
  • Carrier or crate, kitty litter
  • Recent photos and health/vaccination records

Livestock and other farm animals require more advanced planning. Arrange for a place to shelter your animals and work with the community to establish a safe area such as fairgrounds or other farms. Ensure sufficient feed and medical supplies are at the destination. Set up safe transportation with loading ramps and experienced drivers. If your animals will be sharing a shelter, make sure they are adequately identified. For more detailed planning preparation, consult this guide.

The Regional District Emergency Program may be able to assist you with relocating commercial livestock during an alert. Contact Anita de Dreu, the Emergency Services Coordinator at 250-960-4400.

Seniors and the Disabled in the Community

Seniors and people with disabilities may need special assistance in order to evacuate, which requires more advanced planning. Discuss your needs with family and friends to prepare ahead. If you need further assistance, call the Village of Valemount’s Emergency Coordinator, Suzanne Bloodoff at 250-566-4435 and request a form to register your specific circumstances so possible solutions may be found in advance.

Shelter in Place

When it is too dangerous to leave your community or house, the Regional District will advise to “shelter in place”. When it is unsafe to leave your home, make your home as safe as possible.

  • Use plastic and tape to seal windows, doors and vents to keep out smoke or other pollutants. These can easily be prepared ahead of time and the pre-cut plastic and tape stored in a box until needed.
  • Set thermostats so furnaces, air conditioners and hot water heaters won’t come on. Do not use fireplaces and close dampers. Do not use clothes dryers.
  • Stay in an inside room if possible, away from doors and windows. A bathroom is usually the best choice.
  • Have colouring books or other pen and paper activities to keep children occupied.
  • Stay tuned to emergency radio (104.1 FM) / or VCTV to keep informed. Check the Village of Valemount/Regional District of Fraser-Fort George websites.
  • Do not use the phone, keep it open for emergencies.
  • Do not go outside until you are told it is safe to do so.

To receive emergency notifications from the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George, sign up here.

The next article will examine the evacuation itself and the importance of the planning.

Information provided by Anita de Dreu