Communication crucial in wildfire response

Chief Byron Louis says community support must continue even after the fires are put out

Editor’s note: Kelsie Kilawna is a syilx reporter who’s currently reporting on the wildfires that have been spreading throughout her community and homelands over the past weeks. Kelsie is committed to syilx storytelling protocol and trauma-informed reporting.

Those directly in the path of the unprecedented wildfires that continue to spread across the interior of B.C. are desperate for information about the migration of the fires, evacuation orders, and support services available. Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) says that detailing every step of the process has been paramount to the well-being of the people. 

“Communication has been by far the most important aspect in dealing with this,” says Chief Louis from his hotel room, where he has been evacuated to. “People need assurances by having information on a regular basis so they know what’s going on.”

The OKIB has been communicating with community members across various social media platforms, including a community Facebook page, providing information for non-members and local neighbouring residents as well.

On the morning of Aug 18, the OKIB Emergency Operations Centre and Chief Louis shared an informative video with the community on the private membership page to detail the steps taken to keep them safe, as well as sharing how to read fire reports. 

The video provided important information about how decisions are being made to address the ongoing crisis, updating community members about orders and rescinding orders, like the one on Aug 17 for the Head of the Lake and the Round Lake areas. 

“People need that assurance that something is being done,” says Louis.

“Thank you for the informative updates. Posts by OKIB have been wonderful and you can tell how much y’all care for your community and its members,” says one post from a non-member on the page. 

Chief Louis says he hopes the community collaboration and support continues well after the fires are over, to ensure everyone receives the care they need. 

“We have everything under control. It’s what happens after that, it’s that lull immediately after the fire when they think it’s over,” says Louis. “It’s not over for a lot of people that are displaced — it has just begun —they have to make sure they are continuously supported.  These people are still living outside of their community, out of the homes that they spent their entire lives in, homes they raised their families in, these are the people that are going to need assistance and support.”

Folks can keep an eye on the communities website for more information and ways to support as those services are set up. 

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