This past Friday we had the opportunity to formally thank a group of volunteers who enabled the City of Quesnel to play its supporting role in this summer’s wildfire crisis. Specifically, we recognized the efforts of the Emergency Social Services and Pet Safe Coalition volunteers who provided our human and animal evacuation services and the Search and Rescue volunteers who assisted the Cariboo Regional District with its emergency notification system during this summer’s many evacuation orders and alerts.
The City of Quesnel has a group of trained volunteers on standby who can provide Emergency Social Services (ESS) in accordance with the Province’s emergency response procedures. These individuals train and meet throughout the year to prepare to assist people impacted by fire, flood, or any other emergency that causes them to be evacuated from their homes. This system is really only designed to respond to single event, short duration emergencies and, as such, our ESS volunteers were tested and stretched by this summer’s multi-fire, long term evacuations.
Over 64 days this summer, Quesnel’s ESS volunteers supported 2,661 evacuees and issued $1,482,421 in provincial vouchers for food, clothing, and other necessary supplies. Quesnel was not a designated evacuation center for individuals who needed accommodation or did not need to be in Quesnel, as Prince George and Kamloops were the major designed centers for the bulk of evacuees from all over the Cariboo-Chilcotin. However, on a per capita basis, Quesnel carried its fair share of the evacuee load and our fifty-one ESS volunteers provided such professional and caring service that Quesnel gained a very positive reputation as a host community.
The Pet Safe Coalition volunteers operated their evacuated animal hosting service at Alex Fraser Park for 78 days and assisted in the sheltering of 1,001 animals. A large number of these animals were sheltered at Alex Fraser Park and provided with food, bedding, and veterinary supports with the assistance of over 180 volunteers who logged more than 11,000 hours. Animal evacuation support is currently not covered under the provincial emergency response system, so all of the costs associated with hosting these animals had to be covered by donations from individuals and organizations like Rotary.
Quesnel’s search and rescue volunteers assisted the CRD to provide door-to-door notices of evacuation orders as well as first responder and other emergency services as needed. Our volunteer firefighters also provided structural fire protection in the 108 Mile area, 100 Mile House, Miocene, Williams Lake, and Clinton. Twenty-one volunteer members from the Quesnel VFD rotated through this deployment, manning a fire truck and tender provided by the City. This week I will be thanking these volunteer firefighters directly, as well as debriefing them on the lessons they learned from their experiences protecting structures in these other communities.
As this summer’s unprecedented wildfire season evolved, in addition to our formal volunteer-based emergency system response, Quesnel residents and businesses really stepped up and provided incremental organized and ad hoc responses to the emerging needs of evacuees and impacted communities. We have much to be proud of as a community on an ongoing basis, but this summer Quesnel really stepped up and showed our entire region how truly caring and supportive we can be when the need arises.