Letter to Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian & City Council:
As you are well aware, the residents of both Juniper Ridge and Valleyview experienced a very dangerous situation with the wildfire that started near their communities as a result of a lightning strike on the evening of July 1.
We speak for everyone in these respective communities in expressing profound gratitude for the extraordinary efforts of Kamloops Fire and Rescue — supported by the BC Wildfire Service and New Gold Fire Rescue — in attacking this fire on July 1, as well as in the last 72 hours, to keep us safe. We also thank the RCMP, all other first responders, and the City of Kamloops Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) for their efforts.
We were heartened to see first-hand so much good happening between residents during the evacuation, with many neighbours checking in on each other, people offering rides to others, and many other acts of kindness being extended.
That said, we wanted to relay to you on behalf of many Juniper residents who have reached out to us how concerning it was to see such significant challenges with respect to the emergency evacuation itself as well as official communication related to it.
First, with respect to the evacuation, surely we can all agree it’s unacceptable that it took many residents an hour or more to drive out of Juniper due to several bottlenecks in the community such as along Qu’Appelle Blvd (especially near Juniper Ridge elementary school).
Residents are wondering why alternative egress locations at Qu’Appelle Blvd/ Galore Cresc. as well as Coldwater Drive in Juniper West — both connecting Juniper to
Rose Hill Road — were locked for as long as they were that evening, and why only one lane of traffic was allowed to evacuate down Highland Rd.
With respect to communication, while we are grateful for the good work of Radio NL, CFJC and other local media outlets for doing what they could to get information out quickly while the situation was evolving, many are questioning the length of time it took for the City of Kamloops EOC to issue formal communication to ensure timely and accurate information reached Juniper residents.
Frankly, the situation that evening could have had far worse consequences in Juniper in particular had there not been a brief period of rain, and shift in the wind, at a critical moment. With that in mind, it’s critical that we all work together and do what needs to be done immediately to ensure what happened on July 1 never happens again.
Specifically, we urge Mayor and Council to embrace these short-term actions:
– A current and detailed emergency evacuation plan should be put in place for Juniper Ridge as soon as possible, and the City should coordinate with organizations like the Juniper Ridge Community Association to educate and build awareness of this plan for residents in the community.
– Gates at the egress locations noted above need to remain unlocked and open for the duration of the fire season.
– Steps should be taken to facilitate more than one lane of traffic going down Highland Rd. during future evacuations.
– While the frequency of communication from the City of Kamloops EOC has increased significantly over the past couple of days, all avenues to further improve the provision of timely and accurate information to residents should be explored and implemented, especially via social media channels. The City should also consider embracing an app like the TNRD has done through the use of their app Voyent Alert — a multi-purpose communication service used to send alerts to residents, businesses and visitors during events like fires and floods.
It is our hope that the City will embrace the above short-term actions and advise residents as to the status of each of them as soon as possible.
With respect to other actions, we urge the City to make it clear to Juniper and Valleyview residents the plans and timing for additional wildfire/ urban interface mitigation work in and near these communities, as well as for permanent road connections in/ out of Juniper West and out of Juniper East.
We stand ready to support the City in any requests for provincial/ federal funding to support any of the above mentioned actions, and to that end we have had productive conversations with several provincial ministers over the past 48 hours ensuring they understand the need for additional roads in and out of Juniper in particular.
As we all strive to achieve the objective of keeping our mutual constituents safe, we thank you for your consideration of the actions suggested in this letter and look forward to your response. More importantly, we urge you to communicate your intentions publicly as soon as possible to best reassure and maintain the confidence of the pubic going forward.
MLA Kamloops-South Thompson
MLA Kamloops-North Thompson