By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
In 2003, current School District 73 superintendent Karl deBruijn was on vacation when the wildfires hit — and proceeded to burn up — the Interior region.
Then-superintendent Terry Sullivan was also on vacation and the pair was called back to help administration plan for whatever eventuality came as the flames spread through the area.
Now, inspired as much by the recent Fort McMurray blaze as the reality B.C. tends to burn every summer, deBruijn has brought a revised response plan to trustees to try to anticipate scenarios that could arise during a wildfire threat.
He said the goal is to continue operating schools for as long as possible during emergency stages, from pre-warning to immediate evacuation orders.
Issues of concern would include securing safe drinking water, power lines and communications systems and air quality; providing information; dealing with distressed families; securing information and equipment and facility loss.
The issue with drinking water, for example, might not result from an immediate fire threat, but from a distant one that is contaminating water supplies.
In Fort McMurray, power lines burned, depriving schools — and many other buildings — of needed electricity. That also happened in the Kamloops-Thompson school district area in 2003 due to the McLure, Strawberry Hill and McGillivray Lake wildfires, so the goal is to create a backup generator-based system.
Should there be an evacuation order, existing school buses will be supplemented with more, deBruijn said.
Any school could potentially be at risk from a wildfire, deBruijn added
In 2003, a fire burned to the edge of the playing field at Barriere Ridge elementary. Flames went past Rayleigh elementary, but missed it when the fire jumped Highway 5 North.
Flying embers could rain down on any building, deBruijn said, “which means any one of our communities is vulnerable.”
“We have been fortunate to this point not to have any facilities lost or damaged due to forest fires,” deBruijn noted in his report to trustees. “Alternate arrangements will be prepared for secondary students to be integrated into existing secondary schools in the event of extensive loss or damage to any of our secondary schools.
“We will continue to hold empty schools in reserve for possible use by elementary schools and will supplement that space by existing empty space in other elementary schools within the system should it be needed. Other alternatives, such as operating two schools in one plant on a shift system, will also be considered.”
The plan has to be reviewed by the Emergency Operations Centre for advice and the Education and Children and Family Development ministries, the Interior Health Authority, the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and the City of Kamloops for information purposes.