Wildfire evacuations: are you prepared?

Download the Voyant app, get your go bags ready and review these important reminders.
This photo shows the smoke from the Ross Moore Lake wildfire as it rolls in over Highridge Drive in Barnhartvale. Photo by Lyssa Martin

With files from Lauren Kaljur

With wildfire evacuation alerts issued, we’ve decided to hold this week’s story. Instead, we’re providing you with vital information and links to resources to help you better prepare for wildfire and the stress and anxiety that comes with it. 

If you haven’t yet, you should first register for Voyant Alert and download the app. The city of Kamloops uses Voyant Alert for evacuation alerts and orders during emergency events, and it is the best way to stay updated on information as emergency events, like the Ross More Lake Wildfire, unfold. 

The B.C. Wildfire Service Mobile App provides near real-time data, and the “near me” and “saved locations” functions help get accurate and timely push notifications sent directly to your mobile device. For details on evacuation alerts and orders in the region and outside city limits, visit TNRD.ca. For information concerning Tk’emlúps specifically, visit Tkemlups.ca.

Additionally, those who are under an evacuation alert, order or have been displaced from their home because of an emergency are urged to register for Emergency Support Services (ESS). The ESS program provides short-term services for evacuees on a case-by-case basis, including temporary lodging, food, clothing and toiletries. If needed, specialized services are also available. These include emotional support, health services (such as first aid), pet care and transportation.

Evacuation alerts vs. evacuation orders

Evacuation alerts are issued to help residents prepare for the possibility of an evacuation order. If an alert has been issued and your property is within the affected area, locate all family members and pets and designate a spot to meet outside of the evacuation area in case an order is issued. 

If an evacuation order is issued, you must leave your property immediately and can only return once the order is rescinded. As you evacuate via identified evacuation routes, emergency officials will direct you. Once evacuated, you must seek accommodation with friends and family if possible. If you require support and cannot seek accommodation with friends and family, register with Emergency Support Services (ESS) and report to your assigned Reception Centre as advised by the local authority within the evacuation order.

Preparing to evacuate due to wildfire

To lessen the stress associated with natural disasters, the The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) recommends preparation, particularly if you are a member of a more vulnerable group, such as people with pre-existing chronic conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease or diabetes. People who are pregnant, infants and small children, the elderly and people who have been diagnosed with a respiratory infection such as COVID-19 are also at a higher risk during wildfires, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. Luckily, there are many steps you can take to ensure you’re prepared, like having a grab-and-go-bag

In a story written for The Wren’s sister publication, The Discourse in 2018, Lauren Kaljur offered some recommendations for preparing for an evacuation order that stand the test of time. For this story, Lauren chatted with Stephanie Klaamas, a community organizer at the time, who had survived Canada’s costliest natural disaster, the 2016 wildfires of Fort McMurray. These are some of the tips she shared:

Fuel up: Stephanie recalled the stress of trying to get gas when pumps were being shut down because of proximity to the fire. Her first suggestion was to fuel up as soon as the evacuation alert is issued (if not before), to avoid crowds and the possibility of not being able to fill your tank. Best practice is to have at least half a tank at all times if you live in an area prone to wildfires.

Pack your pills: Think about what medications you’ll need. If you care for an older person, remember their pills, as well as things like dentures. If you have kids, remember formula and diapers. Additionally, masks can help keep out the smoke, particularly if you’re a member of a vulnerable group, BC Centre for Disease Control recommends an N95 mask or similar.  

Prepare your pets: Bring anything that’s needed for your pets, like a leash and carrying cage — not to mention the pets themselves! Remember, panic makes your brain fog up. Four Paws Food Bank Foundation provides kennels, food and other supplies for Kamloopsians who need help evacuating their pets. If your property is under an evacuation alert or order and you and your pets are in need of assistance, email fourpawsfoodbank@gmail.com or message Four Paws Food Bank on Facebook. 

Pack your phone chargers: “There was a lot of difficulty with chargers,” Stephanie said. Phones are a must-have for important updates on the evacuation so pack chargers — a dead battery makes them useless.

“Water, water, water,”: “Cars were littered everywhere because of the ash that was coming down and the heat, cars were overheating,” Stephanie said. Think of the basic essential survival supplies you’ll need on the road for a few days. Include water for pets, people and cars.

Grab important papers: “Get your insurance info” for everything, including boats and RVs, Stephanie said.  Also, don’t forget key documents that are a pain to replace: marriage certificates, citizenship records, passports, birth certificates, wills, deeds, etc. For items that are saved digitally, have a hard drive ready.

Remember priceless items: “Think about it now. Make an emergency list of things that will be easy for you to grab, and have everything you need that you can’t live without,” Stephanie said. You won’t have room for everything. Think about what you’d choose between sentimental things like Aunty Ann’s painting or photos of your grandparents.

Remember, all alerts and orders are issued through Voyant Alert. Register and download the app to ensure you get all the vital information needed to navigate these trying times. Urge your friends and family to do the same. Stay informed and stay safe Kamloops. 

Coping with the fallout of a wildfire

When the smoke clears (and it will), you may experience stress related to packing up and leaving home, or even just from being in the anxiety-inducing state of an evacuation alert. Stress associated with the impacts of a natural disaster like a wildfire can have long-lasting impacts. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has resources to help, as well as some tips and tricks you can use yourself. 

Number one on that list? Taking care of the basics, i.e. yourself. While nutrition might not be your top priority, CMHA recommends trying to get enough sleep and feeding yourself well. In the same vein, be kind to yourself, offer support to others and give yourself a break from disaster coverage. Integrating aspects of your daily routine can also help you restore some sense of control and feelings of safety, according to CMHA. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth or getting dressed. 

If you’re currently in distress, BC’s Mental Health Support Line is in operation 24 hours a day at 310-6789.

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