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AFTER A WILDFIRE EVACUATION

Monday, August 28, 2017  
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One of the most important things to be aware of after a wildfire in your area is the safety and purity of water. If you have a well or a septic tank, or if you have natural bodies of water (lakes, ponds, streams, etc.) near you, or if fire retardants have been used nearby; please be aware of the following information in order to keep yourself and your family safe.


Please ensure that you follow all instructions given to you by the emergency personnel in your region.

 

WELLS

 

Physical Damage:
If you have a well on your property it could have been physically affected by fire. For physical damage, perform a visual inspection of all of the components.

 

Look for damage to:

  • Electrical wires and connectors which supply power to your well
  • Above ground pipes connecting to the well to your home
  • Well houses and other equipment
  • Pressure tanks
  • Storage tanks, vents and overflow pipes

 

Water Quality:
There could also be effects on the water quality of your well, even though it may appear perfectly fine. If your water system lost pressure or was disconnected from electrical power for a period it could have been contaminated with coliform bacteria.

 

TIP: To see if your well and piping system maintained positive pressure during the fire, turn on a faucet to see if water comes out. You should not hear any air being released from the faucet. The flow of water should be steady and uninterrupted. If this isn’t the case, get your water checked to make sure it is safe.

 

Runoff:
If your well-head is low to the ground contaminated groundwater or runoff may have spilled in. A change in the taste or odor of your water (it could smell earthy, smoky or burnt) is an indication of this. Thoroughly flush your water lines.

 

SEPTIC TANKS

 

A wildfire will likely have little effect on septic tanks since they are usually several feet underground. However, it is possible that the connecting system could get damaged, so check to see if there is sewage visibly exposed or on the surface. If so, limit access to the area - especially by children and pets. Disinfect the area with bleach or hydrated lime and contact your local health unit for assistance in evaluating the condition of your wastewater treatment system.

 

WATERSHED

 

Runoff will be entering streams and lakes from areas burned by the fire. The runoff may carry extra sediment, chemicals and ash along with grit from firefighting activities, which can rob streams of oxygen and kill aquatic life. Aftera fire, there are also concerns about streams flooding when burned areas receive rainfall. Homeowners on slopes below burned areas should assess drainage patterns and keep culverts clean and open.


Homeowners should work with the local health unit and have ground water tested to gauge impact and possible remediation and recovery activities. As well restoring the vegetative cover to properties will safeguard against erosion.

 

FIRE RETARDANTS

 

Fire retardants are used to protect the homes and forests threatened by the ravages of wildfires. Fire retardants usually have a low environmental toxicity however precautions are recommended for water supplies and food crops affected by them.


The following information has been provided by BC Island Health Food & Water:

 

For residents who are on a community water system:

  • Questions about the quality of drinking water should be directed to the local water purveyor (e.g. municipality, utility provider, etc.). These purveyors are best able to assess how their systems have been affected and whether there is any impact on the quality of drinking water.
  • Water systems in communities where fire retardant was used will have increased monitoring for changes in water quality. Public notifications will be issued if there is some level of risk or uncertainty associated with drinking water use.

For residence on private water systems (e.g., individual wells) that suspect their water supply may have been affected by a fire:

  • Use an alternative source of drinking water until the water source can be assessed or tested.
  • Test private surface and ground water sources affected by fire retardant application to ensure compliance with the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines. Sample bottles can be provided by water testing laboratories.

Food Safety:

  • For vegetables or fruit that have been directly sprayed with fire retardant it is not recommended that you consume them.

 

AIR QUALITY

 

For concerns regarding air quality please refer to the Government of Canada’s website for Public Weather Alerts.

 


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