ʔaq’am Community residents are heading home, as evacuation orders have been rescinded following efforts from firefighters to contain and hold the St. Mary’s River wildfire.
Residents have been displaced for just over three weeks, as the wildfire tore through the community after being sparked by downed power lines during heavy winds.
The fire destroyed seven homes, and quickly grew to over 40 square kilometres, before massive and coordinated fire suppression and containment efforts were able to hold it within control lines.
ʔaq̓am Nasuʔkin (Chief) Joe Pierre acknowledged the patience of community residents, in a news release.
“Thank you for respecting the evacuation order and directives from emergency personnel and thank you for supporting each other during these trying times” said Pierre.
“Without the quick action and support of our neighbours and partners, we would have faced a different outcome. We are profoundly grateful to have close working relationships with agencies including BC Wildfire, City of Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, the Regional District of the East Kootenay, Cranbrook RCMP, and we express gratitude to all those hardworking individuals and partners who worked on this fire or lent support to us over the last 23 days.
While ʔaq’am residents are heading home, several area roads will remain closed to the public and ʔaq’am administration is asking the public to stay out of the area, as BC Wildfire Service and firefighters still need unimpeded access. That includes Mission Wasa Low Rd (local traffic only) and Mission Road through to LD Ranch Road until danger tree falling is completed.
ʔaq̓am Director of Operations, Michelle Shortridge urges the public to respect the closures.
“It is critical that people refrain from travelling on the closed roads, where possible,” said Shortridge, in a news release. “While we recognize people want to see the effects of the fire, we want to ensure that the residents who return home have privacy as well as ensure BC Wildfire and contract crews have space to continue to carry out their important work. This includes continued fire fighting efforts and addressing safety concerns such as danger tree removal.”
ʔaq̓am community focus is now shifting to recovery efforts for those who lost homes or had homes damaged. Anyone wishing to contribute can contact Ivan Winter, Director of Finance at email@example.com.
Additionally, ʔaq̓am and the BC Wildfire Service Research and Innovation Branch are working with community partners to collect data on the fire, and impacts to the community. Specifically, the data collected will examine how fire behaviour was impacted in areas where there were prescribed burns earlier this spring and in 2018, as well as another area that previously experienced wildfire in 2017.
“While we cannot replace what has been lost, we can continue to be stewards and leaders in practicing traditional Ktunaxa land management practices,” said Max Andrew, ʔaq̓am Lands Committee Member. “This includes intentional prescribed burning, to ensure our lands benefit from healthy ecosystems and the reduction of risk to our community and neighbours.”