British Columbia

After 8 months, evacuation order lifted for all but 7 Zeballos properties affected by wildfire damage

An updated risk assessment of the slope that towers over the Vancouver Island community found the risk of a slide or falling debris is not as high as previously thought.

27 properties in the Vancouver Island village were evacuated following the fire in late-August

Rose-Ann Michael and her husband Felix. The home they purchased three years ago has been removed from the evacuation zone. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Eight months after a wildfire damaged the mountainside above Zeballos, B.C., officials have removed an evacuation order for all but seven properties in the Vancouver Island village.

No homes were damaged when the fire burned for weeks late last summer, but officials worried the stability of the slope was affected by the damage left behind.

An evacuation order for 27 properties went into effect following the fire over fears charred trees and brush on the hillside could fall on homes below.

With few options for other housing in the village of 107 people, some families moved to other communities and had to rely on emergency support funds from the provincial government. Others moved back into their homes, despite the potential risk.

But following a more detailed geo-hazard and risk assessment this spring, the council for the village has sent letters to affected home owners indicating all but seven properties, belonging to five different owners, have been removed from the evacuation zone. 

With a population of 107 people, Zeballos is the smallest municipality in B.C. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The village's only hotel is among the structures that are no longer under the evacuation notice.

"It's much more positive for tourism, but I am also disappointed it wasn't lifted a month after the forest fire," said Christina Lepore, who has long questioned whether the slope poses any further risk to the village.

But some residents who live closer to the cliff, such as Rose-Anne Michael, still have some concerns.

"I don't want to be in an evacuation order, but we just want our house and lives to be safe and I don't think lifting this order is going to do that," she said, adding she wants to see mitigation work done on the fire-damaged slope.

Rose-Ann Michael took this photo of the wildfire that caused damage to the mountainside in August 2018. (Submitted by Rose-Ann Michael)

Reducing the size of the evacuation zone is the next step in the community's recovery from the wildfire, said Mayor Julie Colborne.

"Of course there are mixed feelings, there are still some risks involved," she said.

The geo-hazard report makes some recommendations for ways to mitigate remaining risk from the mountainside — including options such as constructing berms and fencing.

The village plans to work with the province to see whether funds may be available to start work on those potential options, Colborne said.

In a letter to affected homeowners, the village notes that lifting of the evacuation order does not indicate there is no remaining hazards that could affect properties.

It advises homeowners to seek their own professional geotechnical advice for their properties.