Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis said those disobeying evacuation orders are “nothing but selfish” and they won’t be provided structural protection if the White Rock Lake wildfire continues to advance.
As of Friday afternoon (Aug. 6), the 43,500-hectare fire is burning only five kilometres west of Westside Road and more than 1,050 members of OKIB have already been evacuated, some having to travel to Penticton to find accommodations.
In a 1 p.m. update, the band said the fire is likely to reach the Whiteman area by this evening.
“As of this moment, we haven’t lost any buildings to the fire, but that could change today,” the update reads.
Reports, however, of people refusing to abide by evacuation orders have Louis, an evacuee himself, frustrated.
“There should be a requirement that they do have to move,” he said. “They put our emergency response, firefighters and police at jeopardy.”
BC Wildfire Services and structural protection units can’t drop water or retardant on occupied homes, Louis said, which means neighbours and the community as a whole will be affected by individuals who choose to stay behind.
“Do these people have a right to jeopardize us?” he asked, noting everyone else under the order who evacuated as instructed would have their homes put at risk due to the actions of one.
BC Wildfire Services and RCMP said people refusing to abide by orders put themselves and first responders at risk.
“But those who chose to stay put my staff at tremendous risk in the path of the fire to get them out of harm’s way,” BC Wildfire Services incident commander Scott Rennick said Thursday, Aug. 5. “Do not put my people in the position that some others did today.”
If a first responder were to lose their life in a rescue mission involving someone who refused to follow orders, Louis said that individual should be held responsible whether it’s jail time or fines.
“Individuals do not have the right to jeopardize others’ lives,” he said. “It’s like neighbours don’t think they have any effect. People basically have no feelings for anyone but themselves. Why should we coddle them?”
The Okanagan Indian Band had started its community emergency plan when it flooded four years ago and evacuation protocol was established. Then, the band had to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now all of a sudden we have fires,” Louis said, noting those experiences helped prepare the band’s emergency protocols and support services.
“Our ESS has been exceptional and our staff — from communications to logistics to firefighting coordination — those people are phenomenal.”
Louis also gave a grateful nod to his counterparts in neighbouring jurisdictions, including the Regional District of North Okanagan, the City of Vernon, Thompson-Nicola Regional District and beyond.
For up-to-date information regarding evacuation orders and alerts in place for the Okanagan Indian Band, visit OKIB.ca or Okanagan Indian Band on Facebook — but Chief Louis says don’t use that social media platform to air out your own grievances.
“Our website is not a place for your personal views whether you are a member or non-member,” he said. “Do not use our site for venting personal views.”