Following the destructive wildfire season in the Central Okanagan that saw tens of thousands of residents displaced and many homes destroyed, the province and local regional district are conducting reviews into how social support services were handled.
The McDougall Creek wildfire tore through West Kelowna in mid August, forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 properties across West Kelowna, Kelowna and Lake Country.
The BC Wildfire Service referred to the grouping of fires in the area as the Grouse Complex.
Along with the unprecedented number of displaced residents came concerns about the long waits many evacuees faced when trying to access Emergency Support Services.
In response to a letter from West Kelowna Mayor Gord Milsom, Loyal Woolridge, Regional District of Central Okanagan Chair, said an independent body will be conducting a review of the Emergency Operation Centre's work, and the findings will be made public.
“For the Grouse Complex wildfire, a third-party independent facilitator will be engaged to conduct the review, with a commitment to specifically address the unprecedented volume of evacuations,” Woolridge said in his response to Milsom's letter.
“When complete, the key findings and recommendations will be made available to our regional partners and the public.”
Woolridge said he shares Milsom's concern about the ESS' ability to “be effective in responding to the overwhelming scale of the Grouse Complex," and he's looking to share those concerns with the province.
“The RDCO and our partners are taking steps to communicate this message from the regional, political and administrative level, and to ensure the province seeks feedback from our residents, emergency personnel and others affected by this event,” Woolridge said.
B.C.'s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Resiliency has an ESS sub committee that's been tasked with finding ways to better address the needs of evacuees. Woolridge said local representatives have met with that team.
“The RDCO has made a formal request to [the Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Resiliency] to identify an email or online platform for our communities to share their lived ESS experiences directly with the province. We are currently awaiting a response,” Woolridge said.
While acknowledging the concerns around support services, Woolridge recognized the successes from the wildfire response: “Homes were saved and most importantly, no lives were lost, which are testaments to the coordinated efforts of our first responders and our regional partners.”