Last summer, the Fort McMurray wildfire was in the news. The fire which burned for two months forced the evacuation of about 88,000 people from the Alberta city and surrounding communities.
This summer, it’s wildfires in British Columbia, more than 200 of them raging across the province, that are grabbing attention. As in the case of the Fort McMurray blaze, the fires are destroying homes and forcing evacuations.
Unfortunately, forest fires are nothing new in Canada. According to Farmzone.com, there are more than 9,000 forest fires in Canada in a typical year, and they burn an average of 2.5 million hectares or 25,000 square kilometres. Even here on the southern Alberta prairies, the threat of fire can rear its ugly head. In November 2011, a wind-whipped grassfire which began on the Blood Reserve blazed toward Lethbridge, threatening West Lethbridge at one point. The following January, a grassfire northwest of Fort Macleod caused concern for communities potentially in its path.
A Canadian Press story in the July 11 Herald about the B.C. fires noted the plight of citizens evacuated from the path of the threatening blazes. Christopher Seguin, vice-president of advancement at Thomspon Rivers University in Kamloops, said terrified evacuees arrived at a reception centre in the city with nothing, having “lost everything and lost it quickly.”
That’s the thing about natural disasters, be it fires, floods or severe storms — devastation can happen quickly, and people can be displaced on short notice. Experts advise having an emergency preparedness kit ready to go in the event of a sudden emergency. Few of us will likely dispute the wisdom of such thinking, but how many of us actually have such a kit? It’s the sort of thing we agree we should get around to some day, but which keeps getting pushed to the back burner.
The Alberta Emergency Management Agency says you should be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for a minimum of 72 hours. Among the items the agency advises including in an emergency kit are water, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, cash and credit cards, sanitation supplies, important family documents, prescriptions or medications, and a change of clothes.
The kit should be updated every six months, says the AEMA.
The Canadian Red Cross offers a ready-made emergency preparedness kit on its website.
Most people won’t experience an emergency that will require such a kit, but when an emergency arises, there might not be time then to prepare one. That’s why it makes sense to have a kit ready to go when emergency strikes . . . and we never know when that might happen. Disasters can strike with little or no advance notice.
As fires continue to blaze through parts of B.C., some communities are under evacuation alert and residents have been instructed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Hopefully they won’t be called on to do that, just as we all hope we won’t have to face a situation where we are forced to evacuate because of an emergency.
But it’s a good idea to be prepared just in case.