By Steve Hubrecht
There will be no flames, but firefighters and other emergency personnel will be out in force on April 14 and 15 as part of a large-scale mock disaster scenario.
The scenario to be enacted is an urban interface wildfire sweeping into the District of Invermere from the southwest, at the CastleRock subdivision, where by coincidence a recent grassfire is being investigated.
A real version of such a threat is not far-fetched, and emergency crews want to be as prepared as possible if it does: that’s the point of the scenario, said Invermere FireSmart coordinator Carey Collin.
The mock disaster will see 60 to 100 responders on site at CastleRock and at the Invermere fire hall and will begin at 3 p.m. on April 14.
“It’s going to be impressive. The members at the fire hall are excited. They’ve got a lot of toys at the fire hall, and they are eager to try them out in this scenario,” said Collin.
Those ‘toys’ will include several fire engines, water tenders, wildland structure protection units ( a sort of sprinkler trailer), specialized hoses, specialized sprinklers and pumps.
“It’s a lot of dollars in hardware, that’s for sure,” said Collin. “If you feel like viewing, please do it from a safe distance, as if it was a real emergency.”
There will not be any live fire during the exercise. The required permissions are not easily obtained, he said.
The exercise will involve first responders from Columbia Valley including; Invermere Fire Rescue, the Radium Hot Springs Volunteer Fire Department, the Fairmont Hot Springs Fire Department, the Columbia Valley Rural Fire and Rescue Service, Columbia Valley Search and Rescue, the Columbia Valley RCMP, Elk Valley South Country Fire Rescue, and District of Invermere staff.
There is a lot of value in a large scale multi-disciplinary scenario like this, in part because it has not been done much in the past. The various response crews often end up working together on actual calls, so it makes sense to practice together, said Collin.
“Most of the fire crews practice on their own, once a week for one or two hours at a time,” said Collin. “It’s not on the same scale as what we can do in this two-day scenario.”
The mock disaster has “no relation at all” to the recent burn near the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, the scenario has been planned for almost a year, said Collin. The exercise and a prescribed burn over about 20 hectares below (to the east of) CastleRock, slated for next year, cost about $80,000. They are funded com-pletely by a Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) grant for wildfire readiness.
Wildfires are a constant risk to Invermere and other Columbia Valley communities each summer, given the relatively dry conditions.
“We’re in the highest risk class along with several other areas in the province,” said Collin.
Collin recommended that local residents take whatever FireSmart measures they can.
“If you have a home with a lot of FireSmart practices in place, it makes it easier for firefighters, with lim-ited resources to help save that house,” he said.
Volunteer fire departments in remote communities are easily stretched to capacity by only a few burning houses.
“It’s something people maybe don’t think about, but it doesn’t much for their (a local fire department’s) resources to be tied up,” said Collin.
Some FireSmart practices can be expensive, but authorities urge valley residents to do things, such as clean out gutters, cleaning up under decks, and make sure not to stack firewood against homes.
“Every little bit helps,” he said.