Are you prepared for a wildfire in the Alberni Valley?
With recent record-breaking temperatures, as well as a wildfire that destroyed the village of Lytton in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, people across the province are concerned about the risk of wildfires in their communities.
In Port Alberni, fire crews have already responded to two wildfires this year: one in Cherry Creek and one in the Scott Kenny Trail system, behind the Alberni Athletic Hall.
However, the Alberni Valley does not have an official wildfire evacuation plan—yet.
The ACRD, along with Tseshaht First Nation, Hupacasath First Nation and the City of Port Alberni received a grant from the Union of BC Municipalities earlier this year to create an evacuation route plan for the region.
Charlie Starratt, the regional fire services manager with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, says this plan is still in development, with a planning process expected to begin this month. There will be opportunities for public input into the development of the plan. The plan will look at all potential routes, both major and alternate.
“The big concern locally is the spread of the fire blocking off access routes,” Starratt explained. “We are a valley, so there are only a few ways in and out.”
Back in 2019, the ACRD undertook a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for the Alberni Valley and Bamfield. The plan, which is available to view on the ACRD’s website through the Emergency Preparedness tab, identifies areas at highest risk for interface fires and makes recommendations to mitigate the risk.
According to the plan, communities within the Alberni Valley have “limited” emergency egress routes in the event of a wildfire. Highway 4 connects the Alberni Valley to Nanaimo in one direction and the West Coast in another direction, while Franklin River Road connects Port Alberni to the remote community of Bamfield. There are a few logging roads that can be used to leave the Alberni Valley, but these are “hindered” in some areas due to varied land ownership and gated roads on private property.
The plan also says that the “majority” of past and current wildfire activity within the Alberni Valley has been human-caused, primarily due to “poor recreation practices” and careless fire use (for example, exhaust from off-road vehicles or abandoned campfires).
Debris from historical and current logging practices has also contributed to fire cause and spread on “all major fires” that occurred in the Alberni Valley within the last 10-15 years.
Starratt says there are ways to “Fire Smart” your home to protect it from flare-ups. Complete a scan around your home and property and take steps to remove combustibles—things like dead plants, weeds and propane tanks. You can find a checklist at www.firesmartcanada.ca.
If a wildfire does require evacuation, the Alberni Valley Emergency Program recommends making sure you have an emergency kit by gathering supplies that will support your household for several days. Store this kit in an easy to access place. This can include a first aid kit, non-perishable food, water, personal toiletries, seasonal clothing and a phone charger and battery bank. Make sure all important documents—such as insurance papers—are up-to-date.
Make sure you also know where to get trusted, accurate information. In addition to following local news sites and radio stations, you can get emergency updates through the following streams:
– Follow the Alberni Valley Emergency Program Facebook page. This page will provide emergency updates, information and instructions.
– Register for Voyent Alert. This is the Alberni Valley’s official notification system for emergency updates, critical information and helpful instructions. You can download the app on your mobile phone or register at www.acrd.bc.ca/voyentalert. According to Starratt, the app has more than 2,000 subscribers so far.
“The app is really easy to use and it works well,” said Starratt.