BC Transit and School District 8 both say their buses would be available to help people leave Nelson in the event of a wildfire evacuation.
But Len MacCharles, who heads Nelson’s two-person Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), says he wants as many people as possible to be self-reliant and not to be overly dependent on the possibility of bus transport.
He says there is no specific plan in place regarding buses because it would depend on many factors including the location of the fire, which highways are open, the extent of the evacuation area, and the number of people in need.
MacCharles says he has been in touch with School District 8 about the possibility of using its buses in an emergency situation.
“There are some challenges given that the buses are essentially out of commission during the summer months, but during an emergency the caring folks at SD8 have said they will work with us,” he said.
SD8 superintendent Trish Smillie, in an email to the Nelson Star, wrote, “The school district has been exploring ways through both facilities and buses throughout the summer, should this become required. We currently have bus drivers on staff daily in both Nelson and Creston as well as emergency on-call drivers after hours or for increased capacity.”
Jamie Weiss of BC Transit said that the agency has provided buses during evacuations this summer to transport residents between communities in B.C.’s interior, including several trips from 100 Mile House to Kamloops and Salmon Arm.
He also said BC Transit buses were involved in the evacuation of Castlegar residents away from the Merry Creek fire on July 1. Residents of Interior Health’s Talarico Place and the Castleview Care Centre were moved to the Castlegar Civic Centre and to locations in Nelson and Trail.
The Nelson Star initially contacted BC Transit and School District 8 about this because of a statement by MacCharles in July that social services agencies are responsible for evacuation planning for their vulnerable populations.
MacCharles has since said he does not expect those agencies to become transportation agencies, but that he wants them and their clients to be as self-sufficient as possible.
“The agencies have the ability to share information with their clients and the ability to help plan for evacuations. I don’t think we’re expecting any social agency to physically evacuate anybody.”
He said the objective would be to get people out of harm’s way, and his office will use all the resources it can find, which include the city’s regular fire, police, ambulance, and search and rescue along with SD8 and BC Transit.
MacCharles said he has been hesitant to tell the public, “Don’t worry, buses will be available,” because this might make people over-reliant on the prospect of buses, which he wants to reserve for vulnerable people who most need them.