West Kelowna  

West Kelowna councillor seeks public inquiry into wildfire emergency response

Push for a public inquiry

West Kelowna Coun. Rick de Jong wants the regional district to authorize a full, independent review of the handling of the McDougall Creek wildfire.

The request seeking a full public inquiry was presented in the form of a notice of motion at the end of Tuesday's West Kelowna council meeting.

The motion will be brought forward for full discussion and vote at the next council meeting Oct. 10

"Be it resolved that council direct the mayor to write the Regional District of Central Okanagan requesting an independent public hearing process regarding the McDougall Creek wildfire with a focus on Emergency Support Services and the effectiveness of the Regional District of Central Okanagan emergency plan," the notice of motion concluded.

De Jong acknowledged the hard work of all emergency personnel and volunteers that fought the fire and worked at looking after the needs of West Kelowna residents.

However, he said there were problems within the ESS, and he believes residents and volunteers need a public forum to share those stories.

"Someone would be hard pressed to say the ESS functioned well in West Kelowna because it was just the opposite," de Jong told Castanet News after putting forward his notice of motion.

"We need to figure out why it didn't function and what we can do to improve it in the future. I certainly have a lot or questions. I have spoken to a lot of people who have stories to share as part of the healing process."

He recalled speaking to a 78-year-old woman recovering from hip surgery who slept in her car for three days waiting to get registered.

"We need to do better than that."

de Jong also wants the inquiry to look into the workings of the emergency management plan.

The plan, developed through consultation with all communities within the regional district was last updated in 2020.

"This is the first real emergency at a regional level since that document was last revised.

"How did it work? Did it function well and does it need to be changed?

"I'd like to know how it functioned."

He says he would push for a public inquiry conducted by a third party which gives the public an opportunity to tell their stories, the positive and the negative.

The information, says de Jong, would come back in the form of a public report that the RDCO would act upon to make changes to do better the next time.

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