The Mount Christie wildfire burning on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Phil McLachlan photo Black Press)

The Mount Christie wildfire burning on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Phil McLachlan photo Black Press)

City readies for emergencies in Penticton

Lessons learned from Christie Mountain fire show a need for evacuee lodging spaces, centres

When the Christie Mountain fire was at its peak, the city put a large portion of the municipality on evacuation notice, including the hospital.

More than 300 properties in the Heritage Hills were evacuated while firefighters battled the raging inferno from the ground and air.

The city’s Emergency Support Services (ESS) says it learned a lot from that wildfire and now have some new concepts to better handle evacuations and emergencies as they unfold.

During their recent June 1 regular meeting, Penticton city council approved the Emergency Support Services facility and spaces plan. The plan identifies the main facilities the team will use when supporting residents that have been evacuated from their homes during an emergency.

The main reception centre will be at the city-owned bus barn on Ellis Street.

These facilities include a combination of city-owned and community partner-owned spaces like the Community Centre and the Penticton Seniors Drop-In Centre. Having a variety of spaces planned ahead of time enhances the ESS team’s preparedness.

Adam Goodwin, the ESS coordinator for the city, told council that they are also in need of a large outdoor space to triage potentially hundreds of evacuees.

“If there is a significant disaster we need to respond accordingly,” he said.

The ESS team has been working with the school district and Seniors Drop-In Centre. Both have offered to provide lodging if mass evacuations are necessary, he said.

Mayor John Vassilaki said volunteers play a huge role in emergencies throughout Penticton.

“The ESS team is comprised of nearly 40 volunteers who help our community during various disasters, including house fires, flooding, and wildfires,” said Penticton mayor John Vassilaki. “The team forms an integral part of ensuring we have a safe community to live, work, and age. I would encourage anyone with an interest in helping our community to consider volunteering for the ESS.”

ESS provides emergency support services during a disaster. This could include finding accommodations after a house fire for those without insurance or supporting thousands of evacuees impacted by a significant wildfire.

The city recently appointed Vicky Horton as the Emergency Support Services director, who oversees the ESS team, after the previous director, Alida Erickson, retired in May after 14 years with ESS.

Horton has been with the ESS team for over six years.

The city, using various grants and city funds, will invest another $35,000 into the ESS program over the coming 12 months, in addition to the $30,000 it invested last year to enhance the program’s ability to respond to any size of disaster/emergency in the community, region or province. These funds will go towards enhanced training, new mobile equipment and a complete overhaul of the team’s technology capabilities.

As Penticton moves into the summer season, the city is encouraging residents to be prepared for any emergency. This includes having a 72-hour emergency kit, reviewing their insurance to make sure it will provide appropriate converge during an emergency and making a plan should they have to evacuate.

Anyone looking to volunteer can contact the ESS team at ESS@penticton.ca or 250.490.2512.

READ MORE: Mayor, residents speak on evacuation experience

READ ALSO: What to do with pets if evacuated

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