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Watch this: Old Fort residents, volunteers mobilize to protect homes

With the help of volunteers, a group of Old Fort residents made their way home today in defiance of an evacuation order to gather their belongings and winterize their homes.
Old Fort residents with Fort St. John RCMP and MP Bob Zimmer, Oct. 10, 2018. Facebook screenshot

With the help of volunteers, a group of Old Fort residents made their way home today in defiance of an evacuation order to gather their belongings and winterize their homes. 

Around a dozen boats helped with the effort early Wednesday morning, along with helicopters and contractors from Fort St. John that shipped in supplies and plumbers.

"We called out contractors in the area to come down and help," said Jeff Garrison, who helped organize the efforts with MP Bob Zimmer.

"We understand there's a situation here, these people need help, and we just need to give that to them. And the community has really stepped up. Now, we want the regional district to work with everybody in co-ordinating an effort together."

Moose FM/Energetic City has provided this video update from the community today:

The group had until noon today to get their belongings.

Involved in the effort is D. Bauer Mechanical, which sent half a dozen of its plumbers in to help with the effort.

"It's a time-sensitive thing," said Garth Tyerman, project manager, of the effort to winterize homes.

The company pulled workers off another job in Dawson Creek to help, and is donating its labour with supplies donated from a number of other local businesses, including cases of anti-freeze, compressors, and generators.

Residents were abruptly evacuated on Sunday, Oct. 7, one week after a hillside above Old Fort began sliding and blocked Old Fort Road, the only road in and out of the community, next to the Peace River.

Residents were given temporary access permits the next day so they could return home to gather essential items and supplies, including pets and livestock, but those permits were quickly suspended on Tuesday as the landslide continued to move and shift.

The Peace River Regional District says it has a plan and the resources to help Old Fort evacuees gather their belongings and winterize their homes, but only when it's safe to do so.

Rhonda Mellafont, an engineering geologist with Westrek Geotech, says the slide is “radiating” in a number of directions that make it difficult to predict when it will stop and where it will spread.

The landslide has been moving between five to 10 metres a day and doesn’t appear to be slowing down, growing to more than six million cubic metres. Things are expected to get worse through the winter with rain and snow, and freeze-thaw conditions. It could be months before residents can return home.

Mellafont says the area remains unsafe for residents to return due to the instability, and the regional district has urged residents to stay away from the area.

But some residents question the need for the evacuation, and say the regional district has been more of a hindrance than a help.

"The lack of information from the PRRD, the way they change their mind, is really hindering us. They made commitments that they wouldn't hinder us," said resident Scott Campbell.

"Then at the last minute again we get a new notice, 'OK. you guys got to leave.' Not a fair situation without any updates or information coming forth at all."

There's been mixed messaging between residents and the agencies that are supporting the emergency response to the landslide, Campbell said.

"The police get told one thing, we get told another thing," Campbell said. "Nobody can get it straight."

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is in Fort St. John today to meet with local officials and emergency responders, and tour the landslide area by helicopter.

He'll provide an update to media at 3:30 p.m.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at