Open letter to Ministers Bruce Ralston, Mike Farnworth and George Heyman Re: Shuswap Fires

23 August 2023

We write to request urgently needed help for residents in Celista and the surrounding area of the Shuswap Lake region of British Columbia for:

• timely firefighting help.

• access to fire hydrant water for firefighting.

• land and water access to necessaries, including food, water and fuel.

• adequate prior notification when Forestry or Firefighting personnel set fires in the area.

• notification to affected people when fires threaten lands and residences.

• freedom for the residents–those who stayed behind–to move about as needed, to help one another.

• to allow them to get supplies and machinery where and when needed to put out the remaining fires.

• a thorough investigation into who gave the order for the back burn on a day when high winds were predicted.

• who gave the order that essentially prohibits residents from helping other residents to fight the fires.

• who gave the orders for police to block supplies.

Moreover, residents need to be included in both consultation and decision making, and firefighting responses. Mechanisms can and must be put in place to allow BC Wildfire Service and local Fire Services to make use of and coordinate local resources, including community volunteers and their equipment.

Help controlling and extinguishing fires threatening Shuswap residents’ homes and lands is reported to have been slow and intermittent, with fire crews being taken off the Shuswap fire and transferred back onto the Kelowna fire. Furthermore, residents have reported that in one instance a fire crew stood by, refusing to assist after having been ordered to stay put, leaving residents to protect their homes on their own. Fortunately, said fire crew eventually gave in to reason and compassionate common-sense and lent their hands to putting out the spot fires as they arose. Equally disturbing is the fact that police have been blocking and continue to block land and water access to residents attempting to bring in necessary supplies to those who have chosen to remain and protect their homes. Fire hydrants have been shut off preventing access to water for firefighting.

Police ought to be concentrating their efforts on protecting vital fire equipment and preventing looting. Police should not be keeping food, water, and fuel from those who are endeavouring to save their own and their neighbours’ homes—such obstruction constitutes a real and avoidable threat to their survival.

Resources need to be invested in good-faith communication efforts to support organized, communally anchored and supported collaboration to fight the fires threatening Shuswap and Okanagan communities. The measure of civic responsibility is not passive compliance and communities are not created or run by experts. On the contrary, community responsibility is exercised by actions that are competent, collaborative, consensual, and based on shared knowledge of community needs.

A Celista Creek resident reports that help from fire fighters has not been readily available. On 17 August at about 4:00 pm, forestry and fire fighter personnel apparently set a back burn fire approximately 15 km from the end of Meadow Creek Road in Celista, at a time when strong winds were forecast for the area, and without notifying Celista residents. By midnight the fire had spread to the Meadow Creek property of a resident. When the resident sought help from nearby firefighters the resident was initially told that although the firemen wanted to help, they had orders to ‘sit’. Residents, eventually assisted by firefighters, were able to, at least temporarily, control the blaze. Police are now reported to be blocking land and water access, preventing residents who have stayed on their properties from receiving necessary supplies of gas, food and water.

This information points to government agents acting not to save but to harm the residents of the North Shuswap area. Government authorities have not acted to protect the safety of residents threatened by fire in Celista and the surrounding area. While residents have not received timely help from available firefighters, an inexplicably excessive police presence has been deployed to prevent community members, who have chosen to remain and defend their homes, from receiving necessary supplies.

We ask that you immediately put in place all measures necessary to ensure that residents are properly consulted and assisted in leaving or defending their properties and that residents are provided with:

a) fire threat notification.
b) timely firefighting help.
c) water for firefighting from functioning fire hydrants.
d) access to necessaries.
e) freedom to move supplies and machinery unimpeded by authorities.
f) answers regarding orders given to backburn, to prohibit volunteer efforts, to block supplies.

Please advise us of your actions to address these urgent needs.

Thank you in advance for taking the actions requested.


Gail Davidson
Dr. Matthew Evans Cockle

642 W Broadway, Vancouver, V5Z 1G1

TEL: 604-775-2453


PO Box 9047 Stn Provincial Government

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