The Casa Loma evacuation plan recently submitted to West Kelowna council is a good start, according to a retired Toronto fire captain who helped develop the document.
“In at least there is a plan associated with an evacuation process,” said John S. Martin, emergency liaison for the Casa Loma Community Association (CLCA) to the City of West Kelowna. Martin has also declared his intention to run for city council.
“I’ve been involved with a variety of emergency evacuations and there is a panic element that is forefront,” he said. “In order to try and eliminate, or suppress that panic, the plan is a good first step.”
Martin pointed out the plan informs residents of assembly points, evacuation processes, and procedures. Casa Loma also has a fire warden system in place that will provide up-to-date information during and after an emergency.
“Where that seems to be the lacking of the province in many respects, as well as many communities that had fire issues last year, that information was cut off as soon as the event was ended and no other information was communicated to them easily,” added Martin.
He’s worried about what would happen if the community loses the capability of using Campbell Road, currently the only escape route by road in the event of a wildfire.
“If that’s where the fire is. Now we’re trapped.”
The evacuation plan included possible evacuation by boat, across Okanagan Lake, and via several footpaths. The latter also worries Martin.
“A large percentage of our community is 55 years of age and older. We’ve identified those who would have problems walking out, so they’ll be our first concern.”
For years, the major push for Casa Loma residents has been a second exit in case of an emergency.
“We just want to see a safe exit,” said Ryan Holt, president of CLCA. “Obviously nobody wants to see another road in here because that would bring all kinds of other issues, but it sounds to me like it will be a locked gate just for a fire exit if there ever is an issue. It has to happen before they do any more development.”
Martin pointed out that according to requirements from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) the community needs more than two exits. “For the number of households that we have here, and the ones that are being built on WFN land as well as the potential Sol Aqua, it requires actually three egresses.”
In April, West Kelowna council gave third reading in the approval process for Sol Aqua, which included a maximum of 60 townhomes and restricted the project pending completion of a second emergency exit route and fire mitigation measures. Condos are also being built on Westbank First Nation (WFN) land near William R. Bennett Bridge.
In March, a letter from WFN development services stated an application for the proposed rezoning of the now-closed 19 Greens mini-golf course at the bridge could include up to 500 new condos.
“From our perspective, the development has to be reasonable,” added Holt. “We also have to contend with WFN development and there is an absolute pile of condos going in there, and that is never factored in. So if we’re already at the limit, it’s just adding to that capacity.”
If the Sol Aqua development is given final approval by council, a second exit would be paved and gated for use during emergencies only.