They’ve made it their job to help people, whether it’s through their security or landscaping companies.
But Scotch Creek’s common-law couple of Josef Berger and Toni Gayles – owners/partners of Newscapes Security, and Newscapes Landscaping – are being made to feel helpless, they say, in the wake of the devastating wildfires that destroyed multiple homes in the North Shuswap, including those of friends and clients.
“Sadly Newscapes Security has been told that we are not able to travel up and down the lake because the RCMP did not hire the local security company,” said the couple on social media, adding their company was “not one approved by the RCMP or the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD).
“We successfully took photos of people’s properties but today (Aug. 22) the hammer dropped and we are on lockdown. It’s important for our community members to know and understand what is going on with their homes. Please be patient as we navigate through this new hurdle.”
Newscapes Security, reads its social media page, is a “BC Licensed Security Company here in Scotch Creek, servicing the Shuswap area. We provide locally trained, licensed security guards to provide you with the peace of mind that your property is being taken care of.”
The couple have been in the North Shuswap since 2000. They began their landscaping company in 2017, and their security company became licensed in 2022. Berger is a director on the North Shuswap Chamber of Commerce, and a highly trained volunteer – but currently on leave – with the Scotch Creek Fire Department.
Gayles and Berger were among those evacuated due to the wildfires and spent about 48 hours away from their Scotch Creek home before feeling safe enough to return, and to fulfill their duties with their security contracts.
They were doing checks and taking photos of clients’ properties. The pair look after a strata and check things there every three days as per the contract. They were doing patrols, they say, as no other security company was, nor was there any RCMP presence after the fire.
They had been going to clients’ homes, those who had been evacuated, to clean out fridges of rotting food. That’s when they were told by RCMP they couldn’t leave their own property.
“We couldn’t leave because we were told we’d be arrested and ticketed if we didn’t comply,” said Gayles.”We were trying to help out friends who fled the area.”
Added Berger: “You’d think they’d consider hiring a local company to help with the situation. But we’ve been told we’d be arrested if we’re not on our property. That seems a bit extreme.
“We’re here to help. We live here. We are B.C. licensed. We’ve got four employees. We’re ready to go to work but we can’t get a permit. We can help a lot of people. We can help insurance companies with their investigations and save them thousands of dollars.
“We’ve invested quite highly in this area. It’s a little upsetting to not even be approached to help out in your own community.”
The CSRD said late Wednesday in a release that due to ongoing safety concerns and active fire conditions, BC Wildfire Service has advised the regional district to “suspend the issuance of temporary access permits for the North Shuswap at this time.”
The BC Wildfire Service, meanwhile, urges collaboration, not an “us-versus-them mentality,” as firefighting efforts continue in the North Shuswap.
This was a message shared by BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) information officer Forrest Tower during a Tuesday, Aug. 22 update on the 41,000-plus hectare Bush Creek East wildfire hosted by the CSRD and the Shuswap Emergency Program (SEP).
Tower said there’s been an increasing number of incidents involving response agencies (from wildland and structural firefighters to government officials) at roadblocks in the evacuation order area in the North Shuswap, “interactions that seem to be increasingly escalating in terms of some of the issues that are happening, that’s going to have a long-term impact in terms of how relationships are managed going forward.
“Not in a threatening way, just in a way that it’s hard to work together when it’s a very us-versus-them mentality,” said Tower, who urged people to think about the “long-term impacts of some of the decisions being made.”
Asked about efforts to bring in supplies to citizens who have stayed in the evacuation order areas, SEP emergency operations director Derek Sutherland said their presence is creating an unsafe environment for all. To address the issue, Sutherland said security has been increased.
“The message that I want to provide to the community is there are enough resources on this fire to actively engage whatever comes at them, and if there aren’t enough resources, we have resources waiting to go into the communities to deal with this,” said Sutherland.
“So community members can feel safe and secure that there are firefighters to deal with any issues that arise on their property if and when they choose to evacuate.”
But Newscapes Security, according to its owner, is not among the resources.
Gayles and Berger say they have witnessed an enormous amount of devastation.
Houses once standing in a 24-36-hour period were gone, reduced to ash and rubble. Bits of metal sticking out here and there. The shells of burned-out vehicles left behind. Their home, however, was spared, thanks to a fire suppression team that set up a block from their home and began actively pouring water over the area.
“That saved our house,” said Berger. “We are fine. We are blessed.”