More RCMP vehicles have been spotted around the city of Quesnel in recent weeks, and it’s all part of preparations for the wildfires in the area.
“I can confirm that we have increased resources in Quesnel, and that’s subject to pre-planning for if evacuations were to occur,” explains Sgt. Stuart Murray, who himself has been seconded from the North District division to deal with media inquiries for Quesnel, due to the local RCMP’s regular media liaison dealing with operations aspects with the fires near the city.
Sgt. Murray says members from RCMP and provincial forces have been brought to Quesnel from cities including Delta and New Westminster to help with increased need during the fires.
“We now have resources that are adequate that if we did have to do an evacuation, we have the resources that we could do it in a timely fashion,” explains Murray.
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson addressed the increase in RCMP members in a recent Facebook post, saying it is part of an ongoing emergency preparedness plan, along with ensuring there are enough firefighters on hand should the status in any of the wildfires in the area change abruptly.
“These preparations should not concern people, but give some comfort that every measure is being taken to ensure we have the resources needed to deal with our current situation and we are prepared to respond to any changes in that situation,” he wrote.
Not only is there an increased presence in the City of Quesnel, but areas already under evacuation order – including Narcosli Creek and areas near Nazko – are being patrolled 24/7 by RCMP members.
“The officers deployed in these communities are patrolling around the clock to ensure the communities are secure,” explains Murray. He says if other areas are put under evacuation order, the RCMP will patrol those areas 24/7 as well.
“If there is an order, there would be an increased police presence for people who have stayed behind. It would be increased patrols over and above what our regular core policing would be doing. Our core policing will still be doing patrols in evacuated areas – core policing does patrols in there also, but are supplemented by members who’ve come in to assist with the fires,” he says.
Comments on the Observer Facebook posts as well as on a popular local social media page indicate Quesnel residents worry that if they evacuate their homes, they will fall victim to thieves.
Last year during the wildfires, fake fire marshals attempted to take advantage of Quesnel residents, coming door to door telling homeowners they’d been put on evacuation and must leave immediately.
“These individuals have been dressed in some form of uniform and wear high visibility vests and are door-knocking in various areas around Quesnel. Please know that the RCMP or another clearly identifiable peace office will only door knock at your door when an actual order is issued for you area and they will have a signed copy of that order to show you,” Mayor Bob Simpson wrote in a Facebook post in July 2017.
And in Williams Lake, which was evacuated for 13 days in July 2017, looters attempted to take advantage of the almost-empty city. Checkpoints were established to keep tabs on who entered and exited the city during the evacuation order, and Williams Lake RCMP arrested one man after seizing $65,000 in heavy equipment from his property.
In an article by the Canadian Press published July last year, Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University in Surrey, said looting is an unfortunate but routine part of virtually every natural disaster, from fires to floods, hurricanes to earthquakes.
“There is nothing especially organized. People just see a chance to make off with somebody else’s possessions, and they’ll do it if they can get away with it,” he commented in the article.
Quesnel RCMP are actively working to combat this behaviour, however. RCMP also have plans in place should more evacuation orders be issued in Quesnel and its surrounding area. Members would go go door to door notifying residents if necessary.
Sgt. Murray says residents in alert areas should be prepared to leave in a timely fashion should the need arise.
“We will assist with control as they leave to make sure everyone is safe and secure,” he says.