On May 9th, a small fire broke out near Marmot Lake, approximately 90km west of Quensnel. The fire broke out in a fuel-controlled area near the village of Nazko, less than 500 meters from a silviculture camp hosting more than 50 workers. Fortunately, the fire was quickly contained and controlled by wildfire crews, and the danger was over by the time the workers had returned to their campsite. Several workers and staff were recruited to assist in extinguishing hot-spots after the initial attack was completed.
On May 12th, a different tree planting camp was forced to evacuate near Fraser Lake due to the Lejac Fire, and earlier in the month another camp had been forced to evacuate due to a fire near Peace River. In the past week, two more large planting crews were forced to evacuate due to wildfires in High Level. In each case, the evacuations were successful, and no workers were put in immediate danger. However, these close calls revealed some vulnerabilities in silviculture camp operations and indicated the need for additional emergency planning.
Silviculture camps are often located in the middle of forested areas, and unlike other work camps, silviculture operations involve workers staying in tents and having their personal vehicles at the site. Organizing vehicle convoys, moving camps, and ensuring all persons are accounted for in normal operating conditions can be challenging, and can involve further risks in the case of an emergency. A number of suggestions have arisen from a review of the recent experiences.
Workers should be trained in different levels of evacuation protocols. A standard evacuation should entail an orderly movement of all staff and equipment out of danger areas, and toward an established muster location where all staff can be recounted. However, companies should also prepare for a “Code Red” evacuation procedure, where workers may not be able to bring personal vehicles or belongings. In the case of fast-moving wildfires, staff should be prepared to take only critical items and immediately depart in company vehicles to evacuate their site. Taking time to break down camps or retrieve personal affects may not be practical or safe in such an event. Workers should be mentally and physically prepared to leave personal vehicles and possessions behind and should be informed of this potential during training and orientation.
Second, staff should clearly understand the difference between evacuation alerts where they should be prepared to evacuate in short notice, and an evacuation order in which they must leave immediately, and companies should have clear protocols to follow under such conditions for both camp and motel-based crews.
These protocols should be reviewed during periods of high fire risk, and companies may seek to limit the number of personal vehicles brought into remote areas, when evacuation routes are limited and risks are elevated. However, at least one vehicle should be available for evacuation purposes when cook and maintenance staff remain in the camp while other staff are in the field during the day. Project managers should also monitor weather forecasts and fire hazard ratings so they can react quickly to emerging hazards.