A large scale landslide that coursed through the Village of Fairmont Hot Springs and across Highway 93/95 at about 4:30 p.m. on Sunday (July 15) left over 600 people stranded in Spruce Grove RV Park & Campground in Fairmont Hot Springs Resort while numerous others were evacuated from their homes as emergency crews assessed damages.

“It literally blew through, it was immediate, it was like a wall of water coming through the community,” Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) communications officer Loree Duczek said at the scene on Sunday night.

“It happened very quickly,” RDEK Electoral Area F director Wendy Booth said. “There wasn’t lot of time for people to react.”

According to Duczek, debris coming down Fairmont Creek caused a natural blockage that forced the water to back up behind it. Once the water came overtop of the creek’s ravine, it “basically fingered out” 1,000 feet wide and a range of impacts in varying degrees were felt, she said.

“At the peak of the event today, we know that we had about 50 people from one area come to the Fairmont fire hall, and there were another 300 that were at one of the golf course club houses and then the resort had people as well,” Duczek said. “It’s affected a number of people in terms of leaving their homes today, and then the campground… they’re full on the other side and they’re estimating that there are approximately 600 people on the other side of the campground.”

In addition to the two-lane road and bridge connecting the resort’s hot pools to its campground getting washed away leaving the campers stranded on the far side, a 1,500 litre propane tank was dislodged, moved downstream and ruptured in the process, venting propane into the air and forcing nearby residences to be evacuated. Although the leak was capped and that situation quickly stabilized, the foot bridge connecting the pools and the campground was also taken out, as were two of the three main water lines — the ones for the hot pools and the golf course. Booth said an excavator was working to protect the main water line for the resort which was still intact.

“Some homes have mud all around them,” said Duczek. “There’s still water all around some homes.”

An emergency operations centre that saw close to 100 people registered was set up by the Columbia Valley Emergency Program. Overall, Duczek, said the emergency response was fantastic.

“We’ve had tremendous co-operation from the RCMP,” she said, noting the RCMP and the Fairmont and Windermere fire departments initiated precautionary evacuations immediately after the landslide struck. Also on the scene right away was the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which was close by since some staff were already working in the area, Emergency Social Services, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and the local Search and Rescue (SAR) team, plus the SAR team from Kimberley had come up to assist.

“We also have had a geotechnical engineer and the Ministry of Forests Lands and a representative from the Provincial Water Stewardship Branch take a look,” Duczek said.  “The good news is that there are no blockages upstream, so they are feeling comfortable that the worst is over.”

Late into Sunday evening, rescue crews were still trying to determine the best way to reunite families separated due to the bridge washing out, as well as return the creek to its original channel.

Given no injuries had been reported, “it’s been a very good outcome right now,” Duczek said. Staff at the resort had been helping out by entertaining the kids who had been stranded on the pool side, she added, and Search and Rescue volunteers even hiked in to the campground to collect stranded children and reunite them with their parents.

Visitor Ron Patry, whose brother-in-law’s motorhome was stranded on the campground side, said he heard a rumbling noise from up the creek (“some similar sound like a train,” he said) and came outside to have a look, which is when he saw the slide.

“All of a sudden… there was this huge mudslide coming down, with trees coming with it, boulders,” he said. “And then they shut down the pools, there was mud inside the pools.”

“It is a huge damage in a very localized area,” Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald told The Valley Echo after he toured the site on Monday (July 16) morning. “The resort is hugely important to the area so I know they’re moving quickly to make sure that the services are established as quickly as possible.”

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort marketing manager Marion Garden said apart from the washed out access road to the RV Park and debris on the golf course fairway, the rest of the resort was in good shape, contrary to rumours circulating on the internet.

“There was no damage to the hot springs, the pools are fine, the RV park’s fine, the lodge is fine,” she also told The Echo on Monday (July 16) morning. “Mountainside Golf Course is closed at the moment, we’re just surveying what’s going on there… and moving golfers to Riverside [golf course].”

The silt that appeared in the hot pools was the result of muddy water from the creek running into the holding boxes that house the pure hot springs water, a situation that tends to happen whenever there are disturbances, she said.

“It’s not a huge problem, all we have to do is just clean up the boxes then we have the fresh water again for the hot springs,” Garden said. “The pools are closed today because we’re concentrating on getting that road built — once that’s done, then we can just go clear up the mud and debris around the holding tanks area where the hot springs are.”

“We hope to have them open tomorrow but our priority is that access road.”

According to Garden, there had been one medical emergency unrelated to the slide. A small boy apparently suffering from appendicitis had been airlifted out of the campground as an ambulance could not reach him.

“Other than that, everyone over there is fine,” she said.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Macdonald. “It seems that despite the violence of the washout there seems to be no loss of life, no injuries, and that’s the main thing so we’re very thankful about that.”

“For the most part, people are busy with the clean up, they’re right at it and very pleased with the response from people in positions of responsibility,” he said. “People have spoken very highly of the response from staff as well as emergency people locally. Certainly local government and the Province stepped up and did what they need to do.”

At press deadline on Monday, restoration work was continuing to focus on re-establishing the creek channel and redirecting water back into Fairmont Creek, stated an official RDEK release. RDEK building inspectors were conducting inspections of homes most affected by the debris torrent to ensure no structural damage and a temporary access to the RV park and campground was expected to be in place by Monday afternoon as the road was being rebuilt with excavators.