Determined to protect their residents from the increasing reality of extreme weather events like wildfire, two towns in Western Canada are starting to build permanent evacuation centres, but need government help to make that happen.
Some liken them to nuclear fallout shelters for the age of global warming, writes the Globe and Mail.
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Spences Bridge, British Columbia, and High Level, Alberta, have become wise to the threat of summer fire seasons growing fiercer and more unpredictable annually, and are building what disaster planners know as “resilience hubs”—community shelters designed to house many people comfortably for many days with sufficient food, water, secure communications, and effective resource distribution.
Proposed as a dual-purpose facility that can house up to 2,000 people and provide “a safe haven and shelter during emergencies, and a year-round recreation centre with an indoor track, arena and pool,” the High Level shelter is a response to calamities like the Chuckegg Creek wildfire of 2019, which burned 350,000 hectares and traumatized thousands of people.
“Our seniors, First Nations Elders, and children all encountered serious trauma” after being “shipped all over northern Alberta,” during evacuations, High Level mayor Crystal McAteer told the Globe.
But while the C$88-million shelter proposal has been “well-received” by Premier Jason Kenney, McAteer added, the province has yet to promise funding. “We asked for $35 million—a small contribution, compared to the amounts that were dispersed to the communities of Fort McMurray and Slave Lake after their devastating fires,” she said.
Likewise “sick of reacting to emergencies” is the B.C. Interior town of Spences Bridge.
“Some residents have been evacuated twice in the past year alone,” writes the Globe, first when they had to flee the Lytton Creek wildfire in July, then when the Nicola River flooded in November. Some evacuees have yet to return home.
With no government money available to build emergency shelters in B.C. (the province’s Community Emergency Preparedness Fund “supports flood mitigation, volunteer firefighting equipment and training, and evacuation route planning,” writes the Globe), Spences Bridge is repurposing a community hall into a “resiliency centre” that will be filled with things like blankets and non-perishable food.
Neither the community hall, nor the shelter being proposed for High Level, will be fireproof.