As of August 7, it was 20 weeks since B.C. declared a State of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and now we are also in the midst of what is typically our high-risk period for wildfires.
In April, an SLRD community literally got a trial by fire of evacuation during a pandemic, when a wildland interface fire took off in the Upper Squamish Valley. More than 100 people were evacuated at no notice as the fire roared around the valley, jumping a road and heading up into the hills. Group lodging was out of the question, as was staying with friends and family. Due to the (socially distanced) professional assistance of responding organizations and the outpouring of generosity from people in neighbouring communities, the Upper Squamish Valley community came through this event resilient and recovering. But now we are in August, traditionally one of the highest risk months for wildfire, and there is also no end in sight yet to the changes that COVID-19 is requiring of us.
Many of us are tired. Tired of keeping our distance, tired of hearing about this virus, tired of uncertain financial circumstances, exhausted by anxiety. Pandemic fatigue is real and people respond to that fatigue in a number of ways. Recently in BC we have started to see our number of active cases tracking upwards as people feel an understandable desire to enjoy summer, connect in person, to have fun and generally relax in the company of a wider circle of other human beings.
Like a wildfire, COVID-19 can flare up from a small and seemingly harmless spark. Even though we are tired of what this pandemic is requiring of us, let’s enjoy our summer while still observing the basics of COVID-19 safety so that we can head into the colder months with our curve flattened. The basics make the biggest difference, and we have had 20 weeks to perfect our handwashing, physical distancing, mask wearing when required and assessing ourselves for any symptoms of the virus.
Like COVID-19, the basics also make the difference in lowering the risk to our homes and communities from wildfire. Whether it’s an extra bucket of water on that campfire, cleaning up the yard or clearing leaves out of the gutters, small simple things can make the difference between no problem and a life- threatening problem. To learn more about how to make where you live FireSmart, check out http://firesmartbc.ca/ where you will also find real stories from Upper Squamish Valley residents and responders about how FireSmart actions saved homes.
Whether it’s a wildfire or a pandemic, basic safety actions work in powerful ways to reduce the risk. As the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry tells us, “be kind, be calm, be safe.” And, I will take this opportunity to add: “Be FireSmart.”
SLRD Board Chair
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