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Abuse of flaggers at wildfire roadblocks on Highway 97A inflames Sicamous fire chief

BC Wildfire Service, RCMP encourage respect of traffic controllers there for public safety
The BC Wildfire Service has received reports of traffic controllers working the roadblocks around the Two Mile Road wildfire near Sicamous being subject to verbal and physical abuse from the public. (Aim Roads photo)

Firefighters and police are asking the public to respect traffic controllers working at roadblocks around the Two Mile Road fire south of Sicamous.

This request comes in response to reports received by the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) regarding traffic control personnel at the roadblocks being targeted by the public with verbal and physical abuse.

“We are asking the public to please respect worksite and the companies supporting BCWS who are there for public safety,” commented the wildfire service.

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil said Monday, Aug. 2, that police did not have any specific reports of threats made against any of the flaggers at the two checkpoints on Highway 97A in the Sicamous area, and that officers check in with the flagging crews on each shift to discuss any issues.

However, Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino, who said he was familiar with one particular incident involving a traffic control person being physically abused, said it may be the incidents aren’t being reported to police.

“I think part of it is the highways crews are telling their bosses who are telling BC Wildfire Service or us that these things are going on; they’re not calling in to 911 directly,” said Ogino. “That’s where some things need to change. These people cannot be doing that.”

Ogino said individuals not following the directions of traffic controllers has been a challenge for firefighters, who have been monitoring the section of highway closed to traffic for ongoing safety concerns.

“We still have trees that have not been dealt with, we still have power poles that are burned and if a tree falls on a power pole, there’s a good likelihood it’s hitting the road and some person in a little car is going to get smashed and it’s just not safe…,” said Ogino. “It’s bad enough we have to deal with a fire, we should not have to be dealing with people abusing the people that are keeping them safe.”

McNeil concurred, noting traffic control personnel already have a difficult job standing for long hours outside in the smoke and heat.

“There is no excuse for the public to be verbally abusive to these workers and police will follow up on any reports made of this activity,” said McNeil, adding there have been incidents in other jurisdictions in the province where police have been called to staff roadblocks due to the poor behaviour of the public during evacuation orders. “We do not want to see that repeated here.”

Ogino said most people are respectful of the roadblocks and the traffic controllers stationed at them. For those who believe they shouldn’t be inconvenienced with having to detour around, the fire chief offered the reminder that the current measures in place are as much for the public’s safety as they are for first responders fighting the wildfire.

Read more: Shuswap wildfires: New blaze west of Seymour Arm, rain helps limit fire growth in region

Read more: Three Valley Lake fire reported to be 500 ha
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