Cultus Lake could face ‘extreme’ challenges & inability to evacuate if disaster strikes

'Extreme topographic and geographic challenges' could make evacuation impossible in the event of an emergency, a new document declares.

By Tyler Olsen | December 19, 2022 |5:00 am

Next time you’re stuck in traffic trying to get out of Cultus Lake on a summer afternoon, just be happy the forest isn’t on fire.

A new Fraser Valley Regional District guide is meant to help facilitate a “safe, orderly evacuation” for any potential evacuation of Cultus Lake and the Columbia Valley. But it also declares that ‘extreme’ challenges and a lack of access routes might make it impossible to get some people out of a narrow valley that is often packed with tourists.

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One way out

The new evacuation guide for the FVRD’s Electoral Area H does not dwell on the specific difficulties that would face officials if and when residents have to flee en masse. But potential traffic nightmares are still abundant.

All communities face transportation challenges of some sort when large numbers of people are asked to leave their homes at the same time. But the document notes that the Cultus Lake area could be particularly hard to evacuate.

“The area presents extreme topographic and geographic challenges that are potential risks of human and community isolation, and/or limit ability to evacuate in the event of disaster,” it says.

North of Cultus Lake, only two roads provide a route out of the area. Those roads are in close proximity to one another and a single fire or extreme weather event could impact both routes.

Meanwhile, south of the lake, communities and campgrounds in the Columbia Valley and Lindell Beach areas have only one road to flee. That route hugs the shoreline of Cultus Lake. If it is blocked, residents there could face the same challenges faced by Harrison residents last year: a boat ride in uncertain conditions.

“Secondary road and route options are limited, including limited availability of back road/forest service roads for the majority of the area,” the document says.

Only one public route exists in and out of Cultus Lake. A second route through Soowhalie First Nation lands can be opened but could be vulnerable to any forces affecting the main route. 📷 FVRD
Only one public route exists in and out of Cultus Lake. A second route through Soowhalie First Nation lands can be opened but could be vulnerable to any forces affecting the main route. 📷 FVRD

Then there are the tourists, both local and otherwise.

The area is home to around 1,800 people, but in summer around 15,000 vehicles each day drive along Columbia Valley Road, the single public road in and out of the area. A second route exists through the Soowahlie Reserve. But that road (which is not to be used in regular operations) is very close to Columbia Valley Road and a single fire or extreme weather event could close both routes.

The guide says a decade-old provincial transportation study suggested three alternative routes that could be used if Columbia Valley Road goes down.
One would be the use of Liumchen Creek Forest Service Road, a 12-km road that would connect the northern part of the lake to Chilliwack Lake Road. Another would be the Soowhalie route. The third would require construction of a route over Vedder Mountain—which was never pursued

If a road is compromised, that is bound to complicate the arrival of emergency personnel to help manage any evacuation or deal with casualties.

The new guide notes that there is no ambulance or RCMP detachment in the area. Cultus Lake has its own volunteer fire department but is otherwise served by Chilliwack police and paramedics.

The FVRD started developing the guide years ago after receiving a grant. The evacuation guide also lays out possible assembly points, traffic control locations, and processes that may be needed if residents need to flee the area. Fraser Valley Regional District officials have reviewed it this month.

You can read the full document here.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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