CACHE CREEK, BC — On Tuesday afternoon in Cache Creek, dozens of residents visited the BC Flood and Wildfire Review open house, held at the Cache Creek Community Hall. The event was an opportunity for residents of the village and the surrounding area to meet with members of the independent review, which is being chaired by Chief Maureen Chapman of the Skawahlook First Nation and former MLA George Abbott, to voice their opinions on how to improve the response to the back-to-back disasters many in the region faced last spring and summer.
Few communities in our region were hit as hard by the 2017 Flood and Wildfire season as Cache Creek. Just a month after the community lost their fire chief to a torrent of high water, the village and surrounding communities were evacuated due to a fast-spreading forest fire.
Ron Bendzak and his family own the 90-year old Circle W HiHium Fishing Camp, which is only accessible by boat. The Bendzak’s were evacuated for nearly two months while the Elephant Hill wildfire raged through the hills around the Cache Creek area, but had been told their property was being protected.
“At one in the morning we had to go shake everybody out of bed and get them off the hill,” Bendzak explained. “We were being updated, and we were under the assumption that there was water protection on all structures in HiHium Lake. That’s what we were told.”
Unfortunately for the Bendzaks that wasn’t the case. Two of their 90-year-old cabins were lost to the Elephant Hill Wildfire.
“That hurt. We felt like that protection was in place, and it wasn’t, for us,” Bendzak told CFJC Today. “In fact, when my wife was informed she was told [they] didn’t even know there were structures on those points.”
While the water has since receded and the fire is no longer burning, many residents attended the second meeting of the BC Flood and Fire Review to voice their opinions on what the agencies involved did well, and what they feel could be improved upon.
“It’s easy to speculate about happened, but when you hear the people’s stories, you get what really, truly happened and what they’d like to see to improve the situation,” Co-chair of the review, Chief Maureen Chapman said.
One of the issues constantly brought up at the meeting on Tuesday was communication. Many residents felt they had knowledge or resources to lend to the firefighting efforts, only to be ignored by TNRD and the BC Wildfire Service when the crisis occurred.
Rancher Tom Pitt said he had a full irrigation system some of the agencies might have put to use.
“I think that’s one of the first things that all went wrong is they should have gone through the community and said ‘What have you got to help with this?’” Pitt suggested.
Care Reaugh lives in 16 Mile, a community a short distance north of Cache Creek.
“[The firefighters] didn’t know the area, and locals do,” Reaugh said. “They didn’t utilize that information. There was a lot of inventory as far as equipment, talented skilled people.”
The review process will continue until March. Co-chairs Chapman and former MLA George Abbott will be travelling to communities throughout the interior, hoping to engage with everyone who was affected by the trying flood and wildfire seasons of 2017. Once the tour is complete, they’ll comb through the feedback and compile their report, which they hope to present to the government in April.
Chapman says it’s crucial the review is able to engage with people and collect as much feedback as possible to help them write their report.
“This is what happened to them,” Chapman said. “It didn’t happen to us, sitting in Victoria or Vancouver. This is what they need in order to survive the next round of fires or flooding.”
As both Chapman and Abbott realize, it’s not a question of if we’ll see another year of fires and floods like we saw in 2017, it’s a question of when
According to Chapman: “We know it’s going to happen again.”
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