It can happen out of nowhere.
One day, many might be soaking in the summer sun, with blue skies hanging overhead and fresh air filling in the Bow Valley. That, however, can change in a hurry, with invading grey smoke that brutalizes lungs and throats.
Every year, during wildfire season, many get an icky feeling about the possibility of flames eating through the town, homes, and destroying lives that were built in the Bow Valley.
Perhaps one of the closest times the threat of wildfire came to consuming the area happened in Banff in the summer of 2017 when the menacing Verdant wildfire grew nearby. Ash fell from the sky into the townsite as the wildfire got within a few kilometres of Banff Sunshine Village, which had sprinklers set up on its buildings' roofs in case any embers touched down. The warm temperatures and strong winds had Banff residents and tourists on alert and an evacuation seemed very real.
Having never been in a situation like that before, getting up to date with evacuation plans for Banff played a crucial part for me in figuring out what to do, where to go, etc. in case, you know what, hit the fan.
This literature on evacuation and emergency plans for the towns of Banff and Canmore and the Municipal District of Bighorn are readily available for viewing on each municipality's websites. The Outlook recommends anyone living in, or visiting the Bow Valley to read through.
As some evacuation orders are being put in place, like in central B.C., or being dropped, like in Yellowknife, we all might know someone who's had first-hand experience with this.
CBC North’s Jenna Dulewich, who’s a former Rocky Mountain Outlook reporter, was ordered to evacuate Yellowknife amid encroaching wildfire danger. For what could have been the last time, the new homeowner looked at her house in mid-August, got in a packed car of supplies and memories in a box, and fled the city with her partner and their dog to the south.
“I don't know if there is any way to fully prepare for a wildfire evacuation,” Dulewich said to the Outlook. “I bought jerry cans and filled them, had snacks packed and ready and a bag of clothes and toiletries, but when the time came to leave how do you decide what to bring and what to leave? The nesting dolls gifted from my grandma, the walrus art painted by a friend and which mug from my collection could I not live without. Then there is the drive. I had been reporting on fires in the territory all summer, I had talked to people who fled their homes, heard stories from families who had no home to go back to. The morning before I drove out I was getting an interview ready for one of our radio shows, it was a mom recounting driving through heavy smoke and flames as the car was melting. I thought I was ready. But there was no way to mentally prepare as you leave with the city in your rearview that your home might not be there when you get back.”
There are some things out of our control – like natural disasters – but your focus should be on what you can control like having common sense and preparing for your worst case scenario.
In Canmore, residents have been encouraged to take part in wildfire evacuation study from the University of Alberta and University of British Columbia. The study results will be used to improve wildfire evacuations and help in planning and strategy. The survey can be found at https://bit.ly/canada_evac_survey.