A photo taken on Sunday by Alanna Janisse, who works for the Village of Zeballos, shows areas of the hillside charred by wildfire. The stability of the slope is uncertain following wildfires that were doused by rain in recent days.

A photo taken on Sunday by Alanna Janisse, who works for the Village of Zeballos, shows areas of the hillside charred by wildfire. The stability of the slope is uncertain following wildfires that were doused by rain in recent days.

Evacuees say the BC Wildfire Service should have responded faster to Zeballos flare-up

Rain douses fires across North Island, but Zeballos at risk of landslides

A Zeballos family is questioning the provincial wildfire authority’s actions after their home was placed under an evacuation order due to the risk of falling debris and landslides.

Ernie and Darlene Smith were ordered to evacuate their home on Saturday after a heavy rainfall helped quench wildfires that have been burning for weeks. The evacuation could have been avoided if firefighters had started to work on the blaze immediately after it started, Ernie said.

“Nobody was doing anything about it, and we’re wondering why, because the fire was spreading right across the mountain,” Ernie said. “Whoever made the decision made the wrong decision not to put that fire out right away.”

The Smiths, members of the neighbouring Ehattesaht First Nation, are concerned about whether they’ll ever return to their home in Zeballos.

“We don’t know if we could ever move back there, if we’ll ever feel safe living there,” Darlene said.

READ MORE: Zeballos evacuation order expanded due to danger of falling debris and slides

Debris hadn’t damaged any of the evacuated homes by Tuesday morning, said Alana Janisse, finance and administration clerk for the Village of Zeballos.

About 16 residents are affected by the evacuation order, which applies to 10 homes and some empty lots.

This map shows the evacuation zone in Zeballos, which now includes ten homes and some empty lots. The village expanded the evacuation order on Saturday.

After lightning storms sparked wildfires across the North Island on Aug. 11, the BC Wildfire Service said the small fire burning directly outside of Zeballos didn’t pose a threat to the community.

The wildfire authority also said the steep terrain was inaccessible to firefighters, and that bucketing by helicopters would potentially worsen the fire by causing fiery debris to roll down the hillside.

In mid-August, the village ordered the evacuation of six homes, and residents watched as the fire grew to an estimated 168 hectares by the end of the month, covering the town in smoke.

During that time, Ernie called for more resources to douse the flames, using Facebook to post video footage of the fire’s advance. Some of those videos were viewed tens of thousands of times online.

As the fire developed, Ernie also pointed to the risk of landslides, noting the danger in Facebook posts addressed to politicians including MP Rachel Blaney and MLA Claire Trevena.

“I wanted people to hear me,” he said.

On Saturday, the village expanded its evacuation order to include the Smiths’ house and a rental property they own, following a preliminary assessment by the provincial ministry of forests, which indicated that slopes around the village were potentially unstable.

The previous night, they drove to Zeballos from Campbell River – where they operate an art gallery in the city centre – to pick up their son Nathan and some of their belongings.

Their other son, Andrew – who works with the fire and ambulance services in the village – remained in Zeballos. He’s currently staying in the ambulance station, said Ernie.

READ MORE: Ehattesaht ‘in awe’ of wildfires near Zeballos

Ernie Smith, pictured here in his Campbell River art gallery, is concerned about losing his home in Zeballos to landslides. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror.

Meanwhile, a government scientist is working on an assessment of the slopes near Zeballos, according to Jeremy Uppenborn, a spokesperson for the provincial ministry of forests.

The ministry recommended that the village issue an evacuation order last week “based on initial observations and an abundance of caution for human life and safety,” Uppenborn said in an email to the Mirror.

He added that ministry staff are currently working out the terms of a private contract for a separate “post-wildfire natural hazards assessment,” said Uppenborn.

“That report should help to determine when people can return to their homes,” he said.

But he stressed that the village determines when the evacuation order ends.

“The final decision for when people can return to their homes will be up to the Village of Zeballos,” he said.

He also noted that terrain like the steep bluffs that enclose Zeballos tend to be hazardous.

“It is not uncommon for slopes of the type seen above Zeballos to be at risk from landslides, particularly with wet and windy environment that is typical of the area around the village,” he said.

The latest challenge for the tiny town comes after another record-smashing wildfire season torched over 1,298,000 hectares of land across B.C.

READ MORE: 2018 now B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record

On the North Island, more than 50 wildfires burned in a cluster of fires dubbed the Quinsam complex, filling the skies with smoke.

Heavy rainfall over the past few days – along with the efforts of firefighters – have finally brought those wildfires under control, said Rosalie MacAuley, an information officer for the BC Wildfire Service.

“All of the fires within the Quinsam complex are considered under control,” she said. “They won’t get any bigger.”

Firefighting crews on the Island are packing up and going home, she said, except at a 1,070-hectare wildfire at Tahsish Lake, where a 19-member unit was still working by Monday.

Elsewhere, officials are “at the monitoring stage,” she said, adding that crews will also be working to rehabilitate land damaged by heavy machinery during firefighting efforts.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

An Oak Bay municipal crew finishes off a job by laying hot asphalt in place on Dalhousie Street. The District of Oak Bay is in the process of completing a number of underground infrastructure projects, part of its long term asset renewal plan for the municipality. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Oak Bay’s Uplands sewer, storm line separation project awaits funding

Federal/provincial infrastructure grant announcement expected next spring

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read