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Massive Fairmont mudslide cleanup begins from the bottom to the top
The roads have been reopened in and around Fairmont after a large debris torrent caused Fairmont Creek to burst its banks recently, sending a wall of water, debris and mud downstream.
“The size and scope of the debris field is staggering,” says Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Columbia Valley Emergency Program Information Officer, Loree Duczek. “Debris from further upstream created an earth dam and when it let go late yesterday afternoon, the force sent trees and boulders through neighbourhoods, at one point sweeping vehicles and a large propane tank downstream.”
Approximately 600 campers in the campground at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort were stranded when the water and debris tore out the access bridge between the resort and campground.
“Some family members were separated on opposite sides of the creek and the Resort staff jumped in to try to make sure campers who were unable to return to their campsites were looked after. Two children were separated from their parents and Search and Rescue volunteers hiked in to the campground to get the kids and reunite them with their parents,” adds Duczek.
The Columbia Valley Emergency Program activated an Emergency Operations Centre and multiple agencies responded very quickly -- including Fairmont and Windermere Fire, RCMP, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Emergency Social Services, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and Search and Rescue. A geotechnical engineer and representative from the Provincial Water Stewardship Branch did an assessment of the Creek yesterday and found no further blockages or areas of concern upstream.
The propane tank, which was leaking, was secured. Mainroad Contracting worked to clear blocked culverts and get water flowing again. The Resort worked through the night and will be installing culverts today to restore access to the campground. A temporary access could be in place as early as this afternoon. Equipment was mobilized near the Fairmont Fire Hall and worked through the night to begin removing debris to keep the Creek flowing back within its channel. That work will continue approximately1.5km upstream.
During the peak of the incident, over 350 people were out of their homes and condos. Close to 100 people registered at the Reception Centre that was set up at Windermere Community Hall and many were able to go home a few hours later. There were, however, some people who were not able to return home last night. While a number of them spent a night in a hotel, there were others with nowhere to go.
“A big thank you goes out to the wonderful people in Windermere and the surrounding area who stepped up to billet some of those who were displaced,” says Duczek. “During times of crisis, the generosity and kindness of the human spirit never ceases to amaze me.”
Work today will focus on re-establishing the creek channel and redirecting water back into the Creek. RDEK Building Inspectors will also conduct inspections on some of the homes that were most affected by the debris torrent to ensure there was no structural damage. Crews will also be keeping a close eye on the weather as more rain is forecast for the region.
This is a massive job and has to be done from the “bottom to the top.” The reason for this is that if you start cleaning out at the “top” of the debris field, you will open the channel and create more water flow. That increased water flow (which will still have sedimentation) will move downstream and hit the debris below – creating the potential for more damming and a repeat of the situation we’ve already seen where the pressure builds up and a large debris field lets go. As soon as the area was deemed safe on Sunday night, a contractor was on site beginning the work at the highway. They’ve been working all day from dawn to dark since and progress is being made in that lower level (they have cleared from the highway to the area near the Pond at the golf course)
The Ministry of Transportation has been doing regular monitoring of the culverts to ensure any debris that accumulates near culverts is removed to keep water flowing.