Andrea Rondeau column: Information in a crisis can be empowering

It’s a terrifying thing to hear the fire call on the scanner for a wildfire near your home.

It’s a terrifying thing to sit in the newsroom and hear the fire call on the scanner for a wildfire near your home.

I had that experience this week, when seven fire halls were called out to battle a blaze on Maple Mountain near my hometown of Crofton.

Conditions have been tinder dry for months, and so far we had been lucky here in the Cowichan Valley. Nanaimo Lakes was burning, and two fires had broken out in Port Alberni, but other than a couple of tiny spot fires that were quickly doused by alert firefighters, Cowichan had yet to experience any kind of significant fire this season.

But while I held my breath, I knew it was just a matter of time, unless we continued our outrageous luck. I’d seen too many cigarette butts tossed carelessly onto bark mulch to think that people were being as careful as they should be.

We’ve been tasting smoke for days from the Nanaimo Lakes fire.

But hearing that the flames have come within a few kilometres of my house was a different experience altogether.

As a newsroom, our first response was to send out a reporter to the scene. Then I sent out a tweet, followed by diving immediately into a preliminary story with what we knew so far — that firefighters had been called out. Then it was off to Facebook to make sure as many people are alerted as possible.

Then it was a bit of a waiting game to hear from reporter Kevin Rothbauer at the scene.

And I had a few minutes to think. My parents were at home in Crofton. Along with my cats. What if?

So I called my father and asked him to dig out the cat cages in case conditions deteriorated.

Footage from the scene was not particularly reassuring, but the fact that so many dedicated firefighters were there fighting the good fight was.

As you can imagine, I was thoroughly distracted for the rest of the afternoon. And not just with updating the story as it unfolded. I decided that when I got home, I would pack a bag in case conditions changed suddenly in the middle of the night. Make sure my laptop and family photos are ready to grab. Make sure I knew where the cats were.

One great thing about being a journalist is that we’re usually pretty good at getting information. Information is power, if not always peace of mind. I was grateful to be able to find out what was going on. Which is why we work so hard to pass that information on to you.

I hope you all find it similarly empowering.

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