A Maple Ridge city councillor vacated her Okanagan property – 28 hours after a wildfire evacuation order – while defending those who chose to stay.
Coun. Chelsa Meadus, whose family owns property on the Okanagan Indian Band land, where the White Rock Lake fire is burning, was told her family would have to evacuate the property at around 1 a.m. on Thursday Aug. 5.
They agreed to go but not until the next day. Many of her neighbours, she said, chose to stay.
Meadus took to Twitter to voice her frustrations.
“133 firefighters 50 per shift- covering 400 km. It’s no wonder people aren’t leaving,” wrote Meadus.
“Would you feel confident your property would be protected if there were 8 firefighters from Vancouver to Maple Ridge,” asked the councillor.
They had been put on alert until then. Fire officials asked her if they were going to stay.
“I didn’t think I had a choice,” said the city councillor.
So, she asked if they had to leave that night or if they could leave in the morning and they were told they could stay until the morning, she said.
Every house in her neighbourhood had a ribbon tied to the residence by firefighters to indicate if there was nobody at the residence, if people there were were willing to leave, or if the owners refused to leave.
So the next day Meadus spent time watering the lawn and roof of her property, along with removing dead brush and debris from the sides of the building. She also did the same to her neighbour’s house because the road was blocked and officials were not letting people back into the community.
“Our particular area is very challenged because we can’t get fire insurance,” explained Meadus, adding that many of her neighbours are retirees and live there full-time. A good portion of her neighbourhood ignored the evacuation order and stayed, she said.
“I don’t know since Friday if things have changed, but there was no prevention, there was nobody coming along and making sure the roadways are watered or giving people advice about, you know, if they are going to be locked down,” said Meadus.
And, with so few firefighters, noted Meadus, people felt like no one is going to look out for my place because they just can’t, there’s not enough man power.
“As did I to be quite honest,” she said.
Meadus was critical of the province in her tweet writing if the government wants residents to leave, they have to put resources in place to give them the confidence.
“It’s easy to say ‘just go’,” she said.
Premier John Horgan is advising residents in all parts of the province that they should leave when wildfire evacuation orders are issued.
“It will protect you, your family, and the countless firefighters and emergency workers trying to keep us safe from out of control wildfires,” the Premier tweeted on Aug. 6.
Meadus said she completely understands the seriousness of putting firefighters at risk and yourself at risk staying behind when an evacuation order is given. However, she said, having experienced it first hand, she can understand why people make the choice to stay, because they feel there is nobody there to look out for them.
Meadus described the whole experience as surreal, because they never saw the fire.
“The day that we go the alert was the most clearest bluest skies that we had had since the middle of the July,” she said.
Since she has returned to Maple Ridge she has been glued to the news. As of Monday, Aug. 9, her property was still safe.
And she is hoping that the community makes it through.
“It’s a very special place, It’s a small tight-knit community, we’re all on solar, and we’re very dependent on each other,” she added.
Editor’s note: In a previous version of the story, the Premier was said to have directly criticized the Maple Ridge councillor on Twitter for staying behind, when, in fact, it was a generic tweet that the premier released.
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