Bracing for wildfire season, residents of this West Kelowna neighbourhood are asking for more exit routes
Only alternative route leads to forest, not ideal for fire evacuation, says resident association president
Residents of a West Kelowna neighbourhood want the city to create more escape routes should wildfires once again threaten their homes.
Terry Triechel, who has lived in the Glenrosa neighbourhood for more than four decades, received evacuation alerts during the wildfire that ravaged the area last summer and noticed there was only one way out of the community.
"A secondary route would be good," he told CBC's Joseph Otoo.
"Unfortunately, where we're sitting right now, the only way is up — there's really no place to go unless you've got an off-road vehicle."
More than 400 households along Glenrosa Road were ordered to evacuate on Aug. 15, 2021 due to the Mount Law wildfire, resulting in serious traffic congestion.
Like Triechel, many West Kelowna residents are asking for improved emergency and evacuation routes in areas that have been impacted by wildfire.
Viable alternative exit route needed
Allen Fillion, director of engineering and operations for West Kelowna, says one of the major challenges facing the community is the fact it only became a city in 2015.
Before that, West Kelowna was classified as a regional district, which meant it was developed in a haphazard manner, without a central plan, Fillion says.
Over the past two months, the city has been conducting the first phase of public consultation to update its transportation master plan, which includes the number of roads in and out of each neighbourhood.
Much of the feedback has called fora reliable exit route from Glenrosa, home to more than 6,000 people.
Glenrosa Resident Association president Tasha Da Silva says Glenrosa Road is currently the only viable way out for her neighbours to flee to Highway 97.
Da Silva adds that Jackpine Forest Service Road, the only alternative route, isn't ideal for wildfire evacuation.
"[The road] forces you to go up into the forest ... if there's a forest fire, you don't want to go towards it," she told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.
"They do try to maintain it, but it's still a very long route when you have as many people as you have to evacuate."
Da Silva says her association has been working with the city to explore options for a second viable fire exit route, including a crossover that connects Glenrosa to Smith Creek and Glen Canyon, but she admits this option is expensive and could take a long time to build.
"It's a $100 million project, so it's not just a city decision," she said.
"There would have to be funding from all levels of government. They are working towards that, but that's a 20-year plan."
Prepare for next fire season, fire chief says
In the meantime, West Kelowna fire chief Jason Brolund says he is asking local residents to prepare for the next fire season by packing an emergency kit with supplies for 72 hours, and participating in the city's FireSmart grant program, which funds home construction projects that help reduce fire impacts on properties.
"FireSmart [are] the things they can do around their homes to better defend them, and give the fire department a better chance of saving that home if a wildfire does come," Brolund said.
The city says it will launch the second phase of public consultation on its transportation master plan this summer, and the third phase this fall.
With files from Joseph Otoo and Daybreak South
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