A chopper is shown dropping water on the eastern slopes of Zeballos on Aug. 17. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Slope instability leads to extended evacuation order in Zeballos

Residents still displaced after wildfires lead to risk of falling debris and slides

The Village of Zeballos has extended an evacuation order and a state of local emergency due to continued slope instability in the tiny coastal settlement.

But some residents are ignoring the evacuation order because they don’t have anywhere else to go, according to Zeballos Emergency Program Coordinator Mike Atchison.

“They’ve gone home at their own risk,” Atchison said. “One family was living in a travel trailer, and it’s just too cold to live in there during the winter, so they’ve been forced to go home.”

READ MORE: Evacuees say the BC Wildfire Service should have responded faster to Zeballos flare-up

He said there’s a shortage of housing for people displaced by the evacuation order in Zeballos.

“We don’t have a huge selection of empty homes that we can put families in to get them through the winter,” Atchison said.

The order applies to 15 homes, along with a hotel and a number of vacant lots. There are 21 people affected, according to village staff.

Atchison said that some people have simply left the village due to the evacuation order.

“I know there’s lots of people that were here that had to move their families,” he said.

People are continuing to receive support from the provincial Emergency Social Services (ESS) program, Atchison said.

Those services – which include food, lodging, clothes and other forms of support – are available to people forced from their homes by fires, floods, earthquakes and other emergencies, according to a government website.

The services are normally available for 72 hours after an emergency, but the province has extended ESS support “for an undetermined length of time,” according to Justin Janisse, a village councillor.

“This has been known to be helpful to families in need for up to a year and is situational,” Janisse said in a Facebook message to Black Press.

Council extended the state of local emergency and evacuation order during a Nov. 27 meeting after receiving legal advice on the matter, Atchison said.

“If they were to lift the state of local emergency and let the people back in knowing that there’s still a risk, they would be liable,” he said.

READ MORE: 2018 B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record

The village wants the province to monitor the mountainside and conduct a study into the integrity of the slope, so that the village can decide whether people can return to their homes, Atchison said.

In mid-August, the village ordered the evacuation of six homes due to the risk of falling debris during a wildfire that eventually engulfed an estimated 128 hectares and filled the air with smoke.

When rains quenched the fires in September, the village expanded the evacuation order due to the risk of falling debris or slides.

A report released in October by the consulting firm BGC Engineering stated that wildfires led to a roughly tenfold increase in “debris flow and rock fall probability” on the steep eastern slopes of the remote logging village.

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