Slide reveals local fraternity

A raging Cooke Creek wipes out a section of Mabel Lake Road in the Kingfisher area. - Regional District of North Okanagan photo
A raging Cooke Creek wipes out a section of Mabel Lake Road in the Kingfisher area.
— image credit: Regional District of North Okanagan photo

The human spirit prevailed over the wrath of nature.

What’s coming out of Kingfisher is how 200 residents and visitors bonded after the small community was cut off from the rest of the world by flooding and a landslide May 2.

“Everyone was getting along and coming together,” said Rob Smailes, Regional District of North Okanagan acting administrator.

“People were willing to look after each other.”

Smailes saw the generosity first-hand as he was among a handful of emergency personnel helicoptered into Kingfisher, which was also without electricity and communications.

In one case, a Calgary couple had travelled into the Mabel Lake area early in the day to pick up their RV. By the time they were ready to depart, road access was wiped out by raging water and a torrent of timber.

“They had no food or anything but they were welcomed right in (by residents),” said Smailes.

Along with Smailes, who is a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic and two RCMP officers were airlifted into Kingfisher and they were immediately embraced by those living there.

“We needed fuel, a place to stay and a vehicle and they pulled all of that together,” said Smailes, adding that Mabel Lake Resort was of great assistance.

A meeting Saturday went from being an emergency briefing to a giant potluck as residents pulled together food defrosting in freezers.

“People were bringing in salmon and moose stew. We were eating like kings,” said Smailes.

With road access gone, critical items were helicoptered into Kingfisher, including generators and medicine. A satellite phone linked the area to those beyond the slide.

The Ministry of Transportation immediately began trying to restore Mabel Lake Road May 2, while B.C. Hydro and Telus focused on utilities.

“It was a huge team effort and everything worked well,” said Brent Watson, with North Okanagan Emergency Management.

“It’s great to see how the North Okanagan pulls together.”

Given the magnitude of the slide and heavy rain, it was unknown how long Kingfisher would be isolated.

“We originally thought four to seven days and that put us in panic mode,” said Terry Laursen, with Mabel Lake Resort.

But through the hard work of everyone involved, power was restored late Saturday and the road was reopened on a single-lane basis Sunday afternoon.

The main culvert was cleared and water is now flowing through.  Crews also placed a culvert in the scour channel to handle any residual flow as they built the temporary road connection.

“The next steps are to re-establish the road at its previous alignment, making sure the road is rebuilt to proper standards,” states the Ministry of Transportation.

It’s been suggested that the flooding and slide occurred when a beaver dam broke loose at Dale Lake. However, there’s also speculation that the ground gave way because water in the lake could not drain through a plugged culvert.

“We are trying to determine who is responsible for that culvert,” said Rick Fairbairn, RDNO vice-chairperson.

Jackie Pearase, rural Enderby director, wants to know what caused the slide.

“I want to make sure it won’t happen again,” she said, adding that the Kingfisher incident is consistent with her lobbying the provincial government to have nearby Ashton Creek cleared of debris to prevent flooding.

“We need to update the status of community watersheds. How much money does an update cost compared to emergency work and putting people’s lives in panic?”

But even as the causes behind the emergency are investigated, residents are reflecting on the positive efforts to help them, and particularly those who were airlifted into Kingfisher.

“They found out what the community needed and Rob Smailes grabbed the bull by the horns and went for it,” said Laursen.

Besides the RCMP, Telus, B.C. Hydro, Ministry of Transportation and North Okanagan Emergency Management, Vernon Search and Rescue, the Ministry of Forests and Interior Health were also involved in the response.

“They were all taking it quite personally that everyone was OK,” said Pearase.


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