Brian Carruthers, CAO for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, ponders the fate of his old home, Williams Lake, from his Duncan office Monday morning. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

CVRD doing its part for Williams Lake

CAO Brian Carruthers among a number of local administrators helping during the crisis

The ongoing fire emergency in the Williams Lake area has become personal for Brian Carruthers.

Carruthers, CAO for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, has brought his mother-in-law, who lost her home to the wildfires, to his home in the Valley, as well as his son, who was also evacuated from his house in the province’s interior as a safety precaution.

Carruthers, who served as the city manager in Williams Lake before he took his position with the CVRD, spent much of last week in the area helping to coordinate evacuations and emergency assistance.

He said Monday morning that he’s finding it difficult to focus on his work in his quiet Duncan office after dealing with life-and-death situations in a high-pressure working atmosphere just days ago.

Thousands of people have been evacuated out of Williams Lake and the surrounding areas as a windy Saturday blew a number of the wildfires that are decimating much of the area closer to the city.

Officials said that while the flames haven’t reached Williams Lake yet, an evacuation order has been issued because the fire threatened to cut exit routes.

Carruthers said he spent his time in Williams Lake acting as a liaison between the city, the local regional district and the multitude of emergency services that have descended on the area from all over B.C. and beyond.

As well as Carruthers, other officials from the CVRD that have travelled to the Williams Lake area to assist in the crisis include Jason de Jong, the district’s fire rescue services coordinator, and procurement officer Anthony Jeffery.

A number of firefighters from the Valley are also working hard to fight the blazes.

“We had an opportunity late last week to catch our breath after days of constant evacuation orders,” Carruthers said.

“During that time, I was given the responsibility of setting up a clean-air area in one of the high schools in Williams Lake in which we brought in air scrubbers and managed to make an 80,000 sq. ft. clean-air zone there.”

Carruthers, who was one of the main architects of the evacuation plan that is currently being used as the fires spread, said the plan appears to be working seamlessly so far.

He said the plan was developed after a similar situation in 2010 when wildfires threatened Williams Lake.

“We evacuated the city but, fortunately, the winds changed and the fire went in another direction,” Carruthers said of seven years ago. That evacuation was made more challenging as there wasn’t a plan in place at the time.

“The next year, we decided to develop an entire evacuation plan for the area, and it sat on the shelf collecting dust until last week. We’re proud of the work done so far by all the emergency personnel and municipal workers in the area.”

Carruthers, who returned to the Valley on Saturday, said, with the fires still spreading and threatening Williams Lake itself, it’s likely that he will go back to the interior soon to continue to help.

“I’m watching the situation closely from here,” he said.

“It’s all hands on deck with this emergency. There are more than 500 RCMP officers there and fire departments from all over the province, and I’m willing to continue to do my part as well.”