Evacuated homes located near the steep eastern hillsides of Zeballos are at a greater-than-ever risk of falling rocks and debris flows following this summer’s wildfires, according to a geohazard report released this week.
The situation has left residents like Alanna Janisse – whose family moved to the tiny coastal logging community earlier this year – in limbo. In June, they bought a house and two other properties that are now located in the evacuation zone.
“We were issued an evacuation order,” she said. “We had plans to move into the house over the winter, but that’s been on hold.”
Janisse, her husband and their two children – ages five and one – are now living in a rental property.
“It’s unsettling, because it’s the unknown,” she said. “We purchased the property to live in… that’s kind of all up in the air.”
She spoke to the Mirror following the release of a technical report detailing risks to the community of about 100 people resulting from the summer’s wildfires.
Those wildfires led to a roughly tenfold increase in “debris flow and rock fall probability,” according to the 50-page report, prepared by the consulting firm BGC Engineering.
In September, heavy rainfall helped quench wildfires that engulfed some 128 hectares of land. But the risk of slope instability led the village to expand an evacuation order first issued in mid-August.
That evacuation order has displaced 21 people. It affects 27 lots, including 13 residential homes and one hotel, the Cedars Inn. The rest are vacant lots, except for two with temporary structures like RVs.
A state of emergency remains in effect for the village.
Meanwhile, the province of BC has closed the main roads to the village due to the hazard.
In a news release issued Tuesday, the BC government said a temporary alternate route has been set up north of town while Zeballos Mainline Road/Maquinna Avenue, which is north of the Sugarloaf Bridge, will be closed to all traffic until further notice.
“Work has started to remove significant rockfall and debris from the road and is expected to continue throughout the winter,” the ministry continued, “during the closure, traffic will be diverted to nearby Parkway Road and Zeballos Forest Service Road. Signs and closed gates will be in place on both ends of the closure to notify locals and visitors.”
In the event of an emergency or in case of a tsunami warning, the road will be immediately opened again.
Lightning storms sparked wildfires across the North Island on Aug. 11. Residents watched as the fire grew to an estimated 168 hectares by the end of the month, covering the town in smoke.