Households urged to assemble evacuation kits

Are you ready to leave your home at a moment's notice?

That was one of the topics raised Tuesday when an open house was held to give the public an update on the steps the City is taking to keep wildfires at bay and to develop a plan for evacuating Prince George should the need arise.

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While almost every one of the 100 or so people who attended a midday presentation at the Civic Centre raised a hand when asked if wildfires are a concern for them, only a quarter of them at best replied with a yes when asked if they had an evacuation kit ready should they need to evacuate.

Emergency programs manager Adam Davey provided some advice on that matter. He said it is a matter of assembling enough food, water, clothing "and anything else you made need" to last 72 hours or three full days.

Put those items in a tote tray or a large hockey bag and and "put it in a place where, if you had to leave at a moment's notice, you could collect it and go."

In addition, he suggested households assemble a "grab and go" bag - namely a daypack carrying important documents such as passports, birth certificates and insurance policie.

In a guide for household preparedness, PrepareBC also suggests the kit include an AM/FM radio , medication, a blanket, pen and notepad, cellphone charger, personal toiletries, small first aid kit, an extra pair of glasses or contacts, cash in small bills, a local map, whistle and out-of-area contact card.

Storing copies of important documents, including family photos, on a USB stick as is keeping the gas tank of the family vehicle half full.

Davey also provided an update on the progress made on developing an emergency evacuation plan for the city, saying a final version will be released in June after a table top exercise is carried out this Friday at Kin 1 with the help of a 900-square-foot map of the city.

As it stands, he said about 80 per cent of the city's population would simply drive away. For those less mobile, any of 18 elementary schools around the city would be the assembly points for those who can walk while emergency personnel would rely on knocking on doors to round up the rest. From there, they would be taken by bus to CN Centre, the main assembly point.

As to the chance of a wildfire forcing an evacuation, Josh Kelly, the city's supervisor of energy, environment and sustainability, said it stands at moderate and "maybe a little bit lower than most people think."

He credited past efforts to rid the city of beetle-killed trees and the amount of less-flammable deciduous trees on public land for mitigating the risk. He said areas where conifers dominate and steep slopes pose the biggest threat.

The City has identified 14 areas of public land in and around Prince George for treatment and is applying for grants to carry out work on six spots next year, Kelly said.

As for private land, the onus is on the property owner to take the steps needed to minimize the impact on homes and other structures should a wildfire break out. The ongoing FireSmart campaign provides tips, beginning with creating a "fuel free space" for 10 metres around your home.

As for those who simply refused to clean up, Prince George Fire Rescue chief fire prevention officer Marcel Profeit said the City's fire bylaw gives PGFR the authority to ask the property owner to hire an professional forester to carry out a hazard risk analysis.

"So if you have a neighbour that has a lot of downed trees, brush piles, those types of things, that are just sitting there, our bylaw will cover that," Profeit said and added the process begins when PGFR's fire prevention office is notified.

"We will do a site visit, we'll take some pictures and we've enforced this part of the bylaw before," he said but added PGFR cannot do anything about unsightly properties.

The open house continues this evening at the Civic Centre, with a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session starting at 6 p.m.

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