Our community suffered a huge loss on the evening of Aug. 15 and the early morning hours of Aug. 16. Seventy-eight of our friends and neighbours lost their homes to the White Rock Lake fire and my heart aches for each and every one of them.
It’s hard to believe that a fire that started on July 13, approximately 100 kilometres from us, could devastate our community like this. As of Aug. 29, the White Rock Lake fire stands at 81,362 hectares and is still classified as out of control by BC Wildfire Services.
Some residents have been evacuated from their homes since July 30 and the rest of us from Westshore Estates to Valley of the Sun for almost as long. We all just want back into our community so those with losses can begin to deal with those losses and those fortunate enough to have a home can get back and do what they need to do to carry on with their lives.
I believe this was important to allow those residents to move forward and also help to relieve anxiety for the rest of us wondering about the fate of our homes. Truly, this was a case of no news being good news.
Communication is the big downside in this disaster. From the first week, the lack of information is the number one complaint I heard. To be fair to the RDCO, the information we both want and need resides with BC Wildfire Service and they are not relaying information to the RDCO in a timely matter.
This is the same criticism aimed at BCWS since at least 2003 as documented in the Filmon Report from the Okanagan Mountain fire of that year. Recommendations for improved communication with timely and informative news releases as well as recommendations to use local knowledge were the big takeaways from that report and in my opinion, we have neither learned nor applied the teaching moments from that fire/report.
The fire, operations and decisions that were made need to be addressed in the after-action debriefs. That is the right time for both, accolades and criticism, based upon factual information.
Stay strong and united. We need to get through this together. This is our community and these are our homes, our friends, our neighbours. We all want to know what happened as well as how it happened. Again, thank you for the support you have shown and expressed; it has been your calls, emails, texts and conversations that have kept me going through this heartbreaking time for our community.
Wayne Carson is the Central Okanagan West Regional Director.