Quesnel Council News

City Council News

July 26, 2017

Documenting the Lessons Learned

Pardon the pun, but we are not out of the woods yet. The wildfires burning to the south and west of Quesnel will continue to be a concern for some time and they’ll require significantly more effort to get them all out. It’s also important to remember that we are just entering the real forest fire season and we’ll all need to be diligent in our efforts to avoid creating any more forest fires as the parks reopen and people once again start entering the backcountry.

Unlike the Cariboo Regional District, the District of 100 Mile House, and the City of Williams Lake, the City of Quesnel did not have to activate its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during this recent event because there was never an imminent risk to the City. In lieu of a formal EOC, however, we held an Emergency Management Committee (EMC) meeting each morning to track everything that was going on and to actively learn from this situation so we can create a more robust and comprehensive Forest Fire Emergency Management Plan for the City. On Monday this week the City of Quesnel stood down its Emergency Management Committee, signaling that the risk level of the current fires is diminishing and we are returning to more normal operations at City Hall.

Over the coming months we will add to our own learning by collecting all of the lessons learned from the other communities involved in this most recent event, including the main evacuee host communities of Prince George and Kamloops. Our intent is to present a draft lessons learned document to Council in late August and seek Council’s approval to engage an emergency management specialist to help us take this raw material and turn it into a comprehensive and detailed plan that the City can use to guide our actions in any future forest fire related emergency.

One critical area we will want to canvass with the Cariboo Regional District is whether we need to break the Cariboo-Chilcotin into distinct sub-regions for emergency management, especially when there are multiple, simultaneous major events like we just experienced. There is definitely a case to be made that the North Cariboo has the capacity to manage forest fire and other major emergencies more directly from Quesnel through a joint CRD-City Emergency Operations Center. The North Cariboo has a different Health Authority than rest of the CRD; we have a separate, permanent Wildfire Branch base at the Airport and the capacity to host a larger firefighting camp and resources as needed; we have our own RCMP Detachment; the Ministry of Transportation has a separate office in Quesnel (located in City Hall); and, the City and CRD have local, trained staff and volunteers who can more directly manage emergencies based on more local knowledge.

I certainly believe we could have avoided a lot of the confusion created during this most recent emergency if we had been able to make more direct decisions here in the North Cariboo based on more local knowledge of our situation and our geography. I look forward to discussing this option with the rest of the Cariboo Regional District Board once the smoke, literally, clears from all of the communities in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
In the meantime, I know I speak for all of the residents of Quesnel when I say that our hearts go out to the evacuees, especially those who lost their homes, as they return to their communities. And, our heartfelt thanks go out to all the volunteers, firefighters, health care workers, RCMP, and the many others who pitched in and who continue to work hard to provide relief for the evacuees, keep our community safe, and fight to get all the fires in our region out.

Mayor Bob Simpson

Email: bsimpson@quesnel.ca

Mayor and Council write Council News columns to provide residents information and updates regarding Council and City projects, initiatives, committees and business. This Column is published in Quesnel Cariboo Observer on Wednesdays.