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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wildfire communications and resource deployment concerns raised at MD of Pincher Creek council meeting


Chris Davis - MD of Pincher Creek Division 1 resident Kathy Flundra appeared as a delegation to council for the MD of Pincher Creek at their September 26 regular meeting to advocate for a formal inquiry into the MD of Pincher Creek's management of  communications and firefighting resources at the height of the Kenow fire crisis earlier this month.  Flundra said she was representing a coalition of residents and ranchers, some of whom were in attendance, who own properties on the south side of Pine Ridge and were directly impacted by the Kenow fire.  Later in the meeting Division 1 Councillor Quentin Stevick made a motion "That the MD of Pincher Creek council call for a public review regarding the events leading up to and including the local state of emergency because of the Kenow fire."  Stevick said he had the motion prepared before knowing about Flundra's delegation to council.  He later accepted a friendly amendment from Councillor Fred Schoening that the review investigate the events "until the local state of emergency was declared", at which time the MD's jurisdiction was superseded by the Unified Command.  Council decided to forward further discussion of the delegation's request and Stevick's motion to their October 10 meeting.

(apologies for the potato quality of this video)

According to Flundra,  "The damage caused by the Kenow fire when it exited Waterton Lakes National Park on September 11 was significant.  Five homes were lost in the Pincher Creek MD, together with numerous outbuildings, machinery and critical ranch infrastructure, dozens of miles of fences, aupplies of hay and feed, and acre upon acre of grassland and forest in the UNESCO-designated Waterton Biosphere Reserve, much of which is preserved by the Nature Conservancy and local ranchers and residents."

"This is a fraction of the damage that this fire could have caused were it not for the defensive and offensive efforts of private citizens to prevent and combat it with every resource they had to hand.  It is also, however, more damage than should ever have occurred had optimized government-led resources been fully prepared and deployed before, during, and after the moment of crisis.  What is more, the extreme risk faced by some residents of the region on the night of September 11th could have been significantly reduced with appropriate warning and preparation."

A package was presented to council by the coalition that included a number of questions regarding communication with ratepayers and management of the fire, including (verbatim):
  • Why did residents have so little time to evacuate, in some cases with absolutely no warning?
  • Why was a sufficient communications plan not in place or fully operational at the time of the crisis?
  • Why was information about where the fire was and where it was going not available to residents in the fire's path?
  • Why was a permitting process put in place for residents to access their properties which left ratepayers without clear direction on what to do and where to go to secure such permits on September 12?
  • What will the MD do to ensure a level of performance ratepayers and residents need and deserve in the future?
  • Why were preventative measures not put in place to protect the MD in the likely event the fire exited the Waterton Lakes National Park, such as berms, fire breaks, and long-term retardant?
  • Where were the MD fire resources on the night of September 11 and thereafter, and why were they so improperly prepared and outfitted to combat grassland and bush fires?
  • Why, when evidence suggests that the fire had already begun to threaten the MD directly on the afternoon of September 11, were the residents not advised until late that night under emergency conditions of its presence, if they were warned to evacuate (at) all?
  • Will the MD investigate whether an alleged backburn was conducted on the night of September 11, which directly jeopardized MD ranchers, residents and ratepayers, and hold accountable any and all involved if proven to be the case?
  • Will the MD seek appropriate compensation for local private citizen-driven fire fighting efforts which were both significant and impactful in halting the fire's progression to other parts of the MD?
  • Why were ranchers, residents and ratepayers required to sign a document releasing, and I quote, "The Municipal District of Pincher Creek No. 9 or its councillors, officers, employees, agents, invitees, or representatives of any kind" from responsibility for the MD's "actions or negligence"?
Councillor Fred Schoening asked Flundra if she had facts and figures related to the time and expense involved for citizens who dealt with the fire and its aftermath, "and are you prepared to bring those forward if there is an inquiry?"  Flundra said "Yes."  Reeve Brian Hammond thanked her for appearing, and said "We will go through a process in an attempt to answer some or all of your questions.

Later in the session council had a lengthy discussion about councillor Stevick's amended motion calling for a public review regarding the events leading up to the declaration of a local state of emergency on September 11.  

"Some of the questions here go beyond the local state of emergency," said councillor Yagos, referring to the package Flundra presented to council, which was technically separate from Stevick's motion. Reeve Hammond reminded council that the usual process for dealing with newly raised issues was to forward them to a later council meeting for discussion and decision making. CAO Wendy Kay suggested the possibility of combining Flundra's request with Stevick's motion as an item to be discussed at the next regular council meeting. Reeve Hammond and councillor Yagos both indicated they did not think the parameters of what Stevick was asking for were clear. Yagos made a motion to table the issue(s) until the next council meeting on October 10 (1:00 pm). That motion passed, with councillors Stevick and Schoening opposed.

6 comments:

  1. Here we go again. There is still a lot of dry grass out there and issues have been identified. Let's hurry up and wait before we investigate and make improvements.

    There is an election coming up. We need to change this Council. We're lucky enough to have enough new people on the ballot at this time to really make a change. Let's give them a chance.

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  2. FYI. . The local state of emergency was issued approximately 2 hours after the fire entered the MD of Pincher Creek

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  3. FYI. . The local state of emergency was issued approximately 2 hours after the fire entered the MD of Pincher Creek

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  4. Not to mention that the so called voluntary evacuation happened after we were being evacuated on the park boundary with no notice. By saying that a voluntary evacuation was posted and 10 mins later it was made mandatory is a bit short sighted. If they had time to set up new barricades on the MD lines at 7:30 that is when evacuations should have been issued. The park even moved the barricades again on Hwy 6 into the MD before the voluntary evacuation was issued yet no residents in front of those barricades notified of those actions.

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  5. Not to mention that the so called voluntary evacuation happened after we were being evacuated on the park boundary with no notice. By saying that a voluntary evacuation was posted and 10 mins later it was made mandatory is a bit short sighted. If they had time to set up new barricades on the MD lines at 7:30 that is when evacuations should have been issued. The park even moved the barricades again on Hwy 6 into the MD before the voluntary evacuation was issued yet no residents in front of those barricades notified of those actions.

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  6. This is yet one more reason to look at changing Council. One of their main roles is to provide direction to the Administration. A reasonable approach would be to decide we ARE having an inquiry and telling the CAO to get the terms of reference and process developed for Council review at the next meeting. Ms. Flundra could be asked to assist so the scope includes the resident requirements. Getter Done.

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