By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

There has been little rainfall in the Columbia Valley over the past week, but 229 properties remain on evacuation alert in the Fairmont Hot Springs area.

The properties were placed on alert, and a local state of emergency declared on Monday, May 24, in the midst of one of the valley’s longest continual rainstorm in many years, which drenched the area from Sunday, May 23 through to late afternoon on Tuesday, May 25, filling debris ponds and debris basins in the flood mitigation systems in the Fairmont area with water, rocks, gravel and other debris.

The creeks did not burst their banks, the debris remained in the traps, and although more rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast for most of last week, those did not materialize, at least not to the degree predicted.

“Although we did have additional rain yesterday, there are no noticeable changes in the upper debris basins,” explained Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) information officer Loree Duczek in a press release on Thursday, May 27. “Having said that, the evacuation alert will remain in place until we are able to remove the debris from the basins and restore capacity within the system.”

On Monday, May 31, in another press release just prior to Pioneer press time, Duczek outlined that the evacuation alert remains in place, and that the local state of emergency has been extended.

Duczek said the alert is still in place because with the debris basins on both Fairmont Creek and Cold Spring Creek are near capacity, the potential for debris flooding remains high, particularly with the unsettled spring weather and onset of spring freshet. “The accumulated debris has reduced the capacity of the creeks to withstand a future event, and until we can restore that capacity, the risk remains,” said Duczek.

Since the rain abated, geotechnical experts have been working to determine when the basins can be safely accessed with equipment and how much debris needs to be removed before the evacuation alert can be lifted. Late in the afternoon of Monday, May 31, the RDEK received approval to undertake debris removal from the reservoir and debris trap on Cold Spring Creek, and was in the process of securing a contractor for the removal work. 

“We are continuing to work to secure required approvals for the debris removal on Fairmont Creek,” said Duczek. “There has been no significant change in the amount of debris in the debris traps at this time, and the creeks are running clear. With the warm temperatures this week, we could see an elevation in creek flows as upper elevation snow melts.”

In the meantime, residents of those 229 properties on alert should stay vigilant, have a grab-and-go kit prepared, and be ready to leave on a moment’s notice if an evacuation order is issued.

The RDEK is urging all Columbia Valley residents to sign up for the regional evacuation notification system (ENS) if they have not already done so. “I cannot stress enough how important this tool is in our toolbox. Emergencies can happen at any time and this notification system will alert people immediately when every second count,” stressed Duczek in the press release. “We have 229 properties in the Fairmont evacuation alert area – and (by) Tuesday night (May 25), only 60 people had signed up for the notification service. Those people received the notification in under one minute. The door to door notification to those 229 properties took our hardworking members from the RCMP, fire department and Search and Rescue six hours to complete. No matter where you live in the East Kootenay, please sign up for the notification system today.”

Registration details and information are available at

Stay tuned to the Pioneer’s website and Facebook page for updates as the evacuation alert situation continues to evolve.