ELKFORD—The District of Elkford is asking residents to have their bags packed, and arrangements made in the event that an evacuation order is placed on the area. On Wednesday evening, the District held an information session to answer a slew of questions about the plans.
On September 12 the Regional District of East Kootenay issued an evacuation alert for the District of Elkford, as well as all rural residences north of the District of Sparwood due to the 7, 513 hectare fire burning near Quinn Creek to the West.
“The pinch point is if the wind shifts,” said Art Westerhaug, incident manager for Quinn Creek fire, with the BC Wildfire Service. He says that the recent rain has showed promise in slowing the spread of the fires, and that the fire breaks the crews have dug have not been breached.
“We wanted to be proactive, not reactive,” he said, explaining why they called for the evacuation alert. “We just wanted to be prepared.”
He said that the distance of the fire from town is not an accurate measurement to predict how long the town would have to evacuate, because fire spreads in an unpredictable manner.
“We’ve been through this quite a bit,” said Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher, who then introduced the municipality’s CAO, Curtis Helgesen. He explained the procedure to the crowd.
In the event of an order being issued, everyone in town is to have their belongings ready and leave ASAP.
At the time of the order, the RDEK and the District of Elkford will tell residents where the reception station will be, and will give direction to those leaving town to go either left, or right on Hwy 3.
The only travel permitted at that time, will be south out of Elkford. Only under a few circumstances would the RCMP issue a permit for someone to head back into Elkford.
Rocky Mountain Elementary School and Elkford Secondary have been closed until further notice, and all three of Teck’s mining operations, in Fording River, Greenhills and Line Creek are setting up plans for a potential evacuation.
“We strongly recommend you remove your vehicles, especially on trailers before,” said Helgesen, explaining that trailers will only further congest the highway in an evacuation. “A lot of people are finding their own place to store their RVs.”
The RCMP will go door to door ordering people to leave, using a labeling system for houses that have been evacuated.
“Are we legally bound to go?” asked one resident, concerned about the potential traffic situation on Highway 43.
“It is legally binding,” said Cpl. Dan Hay with the RCMP, explaining that they would look to enforce the order physically primarily for children, and at potentially for adults as well. “They have to be prepared that help may not come to them if they choose to call 911,” he said.
Other residents voiced concerns about the one-way road in the event of an evacuation.
Spouses of those who work in the mines, mothers who work in Sparwood or Fernie whose children are at home, asked if possible concessions could be made in order to ensure that they all have a way out.
Parents who work outside of town were advised to have arrangements with friends and family to get their children out.
“I don’t want to be separated from my kids,” said Crystal Tennant. “That’s terrifying.”
Tennant works in Sparwood and her husband works in the mine.
“We’ve secured extra busses,” said Ian Anderson, the General Manager of Teck Coal. “Those will be the busses that we’ll use to evacuate all the employees.”