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City hall prepared for potential worst-case fire season

Wildfire season is off to a hot start, with multiple wildfires of note already burning in BC and Alberta.

The City of Prince George has plans in place for worst-case scenarios – to either shelter evacuated people like was done in 2017 or to evacuate the city if fires come too close.

Prince George’s evacuation map is on the backside of the garbage pickup schedule, and the evacuation zones correlate with the garbage zones.

You can also find the evacuation map here.

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“Our evacuation plan is based on your geographical area in the city, and instructions would be given to each of those areas on where to go, how to report in, and how to register,” Tanya Spooner, the city’s Manager of Emergency Programs told My PG Now.

Where specifically people would evacuate to would depend on the location of a fire and what part of town someone is living in.

“It is a little bit harder for Prince George because we have so many people, we can’t just say ‘hey, we are all going to go to one location,'” she said.

Prince George’s go-to evacuation sites, both for other communities and more remote areas of Prince George in the event of a partial evacuation, is exhibition park – the CN Centre and the Kin Centres.

“We [also] have the Civic Centre, we used CNC and UNBC in 2017 and 2018, really it is determined by what event is happening,” Spooner explained.

Looking back to those years, Spooner said it was unlike anything the province had ever seen, and they are better prepared to handle a similar evacuation if it is ever needed.

“Every time we have a major event, we have something called an After Action Review,” Spooner said. “We go through the event and figure out what did and didn’t work… that was the big difference between 2017 and 2018.”

Over 10,700 people were evacuated to Prince George in the summer of 2017.

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Across BC, 65,000 people were evacuated that summer.

Since then, Spooner said the city hires temporary emergency planning staff every summer, and have scaled down their reception centres.

“In 2017/18, we tried to be everything for everyone and have all the great services out there, and it wasn’t sustainable for long evacuation events,” she explained. “Now we are focused on getting people into the doors, registered, to a point of safety, and getting them their essential needs, not having them gather and stay on once site.”

She said the mass of evacuated people can be bad for mental health and wellbeing, and the focus on future evacuations will shift towards quickly getting people on to a more stable “new normal” as soon as possible.

Spooner assured residents the city is actively in contact with the BC Wildfire Service and monitoring any potential threats.

“If we do ever have to evacuate, we are going to have agreements in place with other communities to receive these individuals, but if you have your own plan that is the best plan,” she said. “If you know you can go to Auntie Martha’s in Quesnel, that is one less person I need to plan for.”

You can find the BC Wildfire Dashboard here.

Something going on in the Prince George area you think people should know about?
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