B.C. residents asked to provide tombstone info after refusing to evacuate

By Teresa Smith, Canwest News Service
June 12, 2009
StoryPhotos ( 1 )

A file photo from the B.C. Forestry Service photo of Tyaughton Lake forest fire near Lillooet, BC in June, 2009. The fire is concentrated on an area of Crown land in the Tyaughton Lake area 65 kilometres west of Lillooet.
Photograph by: Handout, B.C. Forestry ServiceB.C.

RCMP have asked seven residents in the path of a growing central B.C. forest fire for their dental records after they refused to leave the area earlier this week.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said Friday the move was not a scare tactic.

"It's just the fact of the matter. We use dental records to identify charred remains," he said. "This is done all the time."

But Tyaughton Lake, B.C., resident Reg Dubeck said he hasn't seen smoke or fire in five days and the way he and his neighbours are being treated is unbelievable.

"Right now we're under house arrest. They'll let us out but they won't let us back in," he said Friday. "They won't let us get supplies, food or gas."

The RCMP won't arrest anyone if they decide not to leave but, once an evacuation order is issued, officers go door-to-door urging residents to get out.

If a resident says they won't leave their home, then the RCMP ask for "tombstone information" which includes, date of birth, next of kin to be notified in case of death and the name of their dentist.

"We really want to drive home the issue that they're certainly in danger, and they could be in imminent danger," said Moskaluk. "Forestry services have it pretty down pat, and they're pretty good at predicting what might happen in these situations so, when they put out the evacuation order, people should listen."

"They're worried about some hot-spot 20 miles away," said Dubeck, "but we've been watching it go away for the last week."

Dubeck, originally from Squamish, B.C., has lived in his dream home on Tyaughton Lake for 14 years.

He said he and the rest of the group, including his parents who live next door, originally stayed because they weren't confident that BC Forest Service could handle it. Since then, he said the firefighters have done an exceptional job and credits them with saving the lake.

"Fighting fires is nothing new for people out here," said Dubeck, "We all know about the threat. We're loaded and ready to go if that becomes necessary."

RCMP issued the first evacuation orders for Tyaughton Lake on May 30, one day after the fire started.

More than 300 firefighters were continuing to work Friday on containing the 8,000-hectare wildfire which, RCMP believe was human-caused.

Crews from Ontario and Alberta, which add about 70 people to the fight, arrived this week in both the Tyaughton Lake Fire and 20,500 hectare Smith River fire on the Alaska Highway.

Both fires have been growing steadily due to high winds, dry conditions and soaring temperatures in B.C.

Since the Okanagan Mountain Park fire of 2003, where 238 homes were lost or damaged, the BC Forest Service has developed Structure Protection Crews sprinkler systems to protect homes and fire crews specially stationed around residences to fight the fire.

The problem with that, said Moskaluk, is that residents falsely assume that, if crews are still there, it's safe to remain in the area.

". . The firefighter assumes the risk because that's his job and, the reality is, he could very well die right beside you," Moskaluk said.

Moskaluk said 90 to 95 per cent of residents do leave when asked, but those who do not pile unnecessary stress on the firefighters.

"It's going to be a long, tough fire season," he said. "This is just the beginning."

Tyaughton Lake is located 300 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Copyright (c) Canwest News Service