On Sunday July 5th 2015, Gabriolans gathered at the local community hall to express concern, ask questions, and share information about preparedness and action in this summer of extreme fire risk. The fact that nearly 400 people attended a meeting that had been arranged that very day is indicitive of the level of concern felt when we awoke to an eerie, out-of-this-world, glowing orange pall to the sky. People came wanting answers and a plan of action. They got a dose of reality.
We live in a community, as with all communities everywhere, with a finite set of human and equipment resources. We are experiencing a summer of severe drought that is occurring across the entire province and beyond. Through lower than expected levels of rain we are already at a Level Four drought. The result has been the province erupting into 60+ wildfires this weekend alone. We have seen the consequences of extreme weather elsewhere in the world. Now it is our turn.
The message of the evening, delivered by Fire Chief Rick Jackson, RCMP Constable Jan Hendriks and ESS coordinator, Shirley Nicolson, was that we are individually responsible for our own plan. The firefighters will be fighting any fires and the three RCMP officers will be dealing with issues of public safety and provincial emergency services will be assisting with minimum levels of service for people who are evacuated from their homes (for a maximum of 72 hours). The rest is up to us.
Experience elsewhere has shown that in times of crisis people pull together. That is what is needed here now, in advance of any severe situation. Our best defence is at a neighbourhood level, neighbour assisting neighbour. Citizen action is the order of the day.
How can we help? What can we do?
Today: ensure that you have a reflective house number, viewable from the road at night, so that first responders can quickly respond to any calls.
Constantly be alert for any indication of fire with heightened vigilance now that we are experiencing smoke from wildfires elsewhere in the province.
Carry a fully-charged fire extinguisher in your vehicle so that you are prepared to deal with any newly emergent fire situation you may be the first to encounter.
Carry a charged cell phone, if you have one, so that 911 call can be made as soon as necessary.
See broken glass lying at the side of the road or on a trail? Pick it up! Prevent a fire.
Meet with your immediate neighbours. Do you know their names? Their addressess? Do you have their contact information (e-mail and phone number)? Have you discussed the human and material resources available to you in the immediate vicinity? Who has access to a large water supply? Who has medical training? Who has skills and tools that would be useful in an emergency? Who is vulerable? Elderly? Alone? Compromised mobility? Breathing difficulties that would be affected by levels of smoke in the air? People with infants and children? Who has pets and livestock? Refresh this information now. Have that conversation now.
Carry the Fire Duty Officer pager number with you at all times (250-755-9289). This is the number to call for concerns of unsafe behaviour, non emergency situations that need to be investigated, such as the recent use of fireworks on the island.
Be diligent if you see someone driving with four-way flashers or flashing headlights. This is a firefighter, paramedic, or doctor attending a call. Give them the right-of-way!
Become involved if you see someone behaving in a potentially dangerous manner… challenge anyone who tosses out a cigarette butt… smoking should be done indoors only during this time of drought. Be aware of the total fire ban and the restrictions on usage of power tools and inform others if necessary.
Follow local FM radio for updates on emerging situations: The Wolf 106.9FM and The Wave 102.3 FM.
Pack and carry a Grab-and-Go bag in your vehicle or have it at your door. Assume that when you leave your house during this extreme drought, you might not be able to get back. Have your ID, your family contact information, medications/prescriptions, extra eyeglasses, water, a change of clothers, items for personal hygiene, have cash on hand (ATMs will be down in a power outage), a crank/solar powered radio, photos of family members and pets, important documents, insurance papers.
Keep your gas tank no less than half full so that you don’t run out.
If evacuation becomes necessary, police or fire vehicles will drive through a neighbourhood with sirens and loudspeaker alerts.
You are responsible for the people living on either side of you. Yes, you. Are they safe? Can they get out?
Take responsiblity. Take action. This is what will determine the outcome of this time of extreme risk for our community. If something needs to be done, take control. Some individuals left the meeting determined to get a sign put up at the Nanaimo side of our ferry terminal alerting visitors and new residents to the reality of our extreme fire risk. If something needs to be done to ensure our safety and the best outcome for our island, do it. That is how this meeting happend. Do not point fingers at others in the community. Take the action yourself; collaborate with your friends and neighbours.
Shift that consciousness!