Emergency Social Services team goes to work in Merritt after fire

By on March 17, 2017
The north side of the Kengard Manor apartment complex incurred significant damage in a blaze on Thursday. (Cole Wagner/Herald).

The City of Merritt’s specialized emergency response team swept into action last night, after about 60 people were displaced by a fire at the Kengard Manor apartment buildings.

Though the fire has since been extinguished, the blaze raged on for the better part of the day on March 16, with all residents of the building having been evacuated by noon.

With the city’s emergency program co-ordinator Sky McKeown busy battling the blaze at Kengard, the local RCMP activated the city’s Emergency Social Services (ESS) team.

The team set up shop at the civic centre, serving as a sort-of triage area where residents displaced by the fire were set up with lodging for the night.

As of about 8 p.m. last night, the Comfort Inn and Suites had booked up about 24 rooms for those displaced by the fire. Hotel owner and local entrepreneur Lalli Randhawa estimated that 46 or 47 people came to the hotel from the Kengard blaze.

At 11 a.m. this morning, those affected by the fire were invited to attend a closed-doors meeting at the civic centre, where former residents of the Kengard apartments received details about specifc services which would be provided through ESS.

McKeown confirmed that the those displaced by the fire would have their lodging arrangements extended for another 72-hours, on top of the night spent at the hotels yesterday.

“It’s actually an extension. ESS was able to secure to have that extra night, that fourth night put in. So that puts us to Monday,” he explained.

Vouchers for food, clothing and incidentals were also distributed to those displaced, McKeown added, noting that most all local businesses should accept the vouchers.

“Our local ESS has made contact with businesses in town, saying ‘Hey, this is what they are, when someone brings this to you they are in the event of an emergency,’ and [ESS] trusts that [business owners] will disseminate that information to their workers.”

According to forms available on the Emergency Management BC website, those displaced by the fire should be entitled to a $10 breakfast, a $13 lunch, and a $22 dinner per day — or alternatively, $22.50 per day in groceries. Tobacco and alcohol are not covered.

The cost of the hotel rooms for the duration of the stay are covered by the province, but any costs incurred outside (video rentals, damages, parking, long distance calls, are charged to the evacuee).

Evacuees are entitled to a maximum of $150 worth of clothing per person, or $200 per person in cases of extreme winter weather.

Three days of “necessary” transportation costs are covered by ESS, such as taxis, a three-day bus pass, or the cost of gas.

Finally, each person is entitled to up to $50 for incidentals. Examples given by Emergency Management BC include personal hygiene products, laundry supplies, pet food or medication.

Beyond the immediate emergency relief provided through the provincial program, McKeown said that he is reaching out to a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to see if they can provide any aid.

“Red Cross, locally ASK Wellness, the Salvation Army — there is a ton of them out there,” said McKeown. “Just got off the phone, I’ll be getting right back on the phone after this.”

And for Merrittonians who weren’t affected by the fire, but who are looking to provide some relief to the community — McKeown had a couple recommendations.

“Right now we’re just asking people to just sit tight,” said McKeown. “If they have any personal contact with anyone that’s been displaced, then I encourage them to make that personal contact with those people… But don’t go generic — go individual.”

With the fire extinguished, and the immediate emergency needs of those displaced being provided, McKeown said the next step involved the investigation of the fire itself.

“The insurance companies on the ground, they will be doing evaluations of the place, trying to get some sort of better idea of, ‘Are people going to be allowed back in? When are people going to be allowed back in? Is it going to be rebuilt? Is it not going to be rebuilt?’” said McKeown. “All those are strictly all guesses right now until the subject matter experts get their boots on the ground.“

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