Social media helps and hinders firefighting efforts

On the Ball column, by Craig Lindsay, Aug. 26 Grand Forks Gazette.

The sky is falling, the sky is falling.

It’s been an interesting and hectic last few days around the Boundary. Us in Grand Forks have thus far been spared from the wildfires that are surrounding us. That hasn’t stopped people from posting about how the fires are going to consume us and we need to run to the hills.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and the like can be a great resource. Jenna Edwards set up the Rock Creek wildfire evacuation information page and it grew to 2,500 members who share information. What’s up Grand Forks? has also been very helpful as have other sites. The RDKB has tweeted up-to-date information on their Twitter feed, which has really been a great help.

Unfortunately, social media is also a haven for rumours and gossip, which can spread like, well, wildfire.

There’s no doubt people need to be aware that there is danger and it can be scary particularly when the town is blanketed by thick smoke. But that doesn’t mean the fire is getting worse or getting closer. In fact, the lack of wind keeps the fire from spreading.

The Stickpin wildfire in Washington State is a large one and has grown over the last few days. The fact that it (while, the smoke) can be visible on clear days from Grand Forks doesn’t help. But American (and now B.C.) firefighting crews are battling it hard. It does not appear to be growing significantly and it remains about five kilometres from the border.

The RDKB’s public meeting on Thursday was interesting and informative as John MacLean, RDKB CAO, and a few other important officials spoke clearly to the residents of Grand Forks (and later that evening at Christina Lake) about what is happening and what people can expect IF an evacuation alert or order is to take place.

MacLean assured people that there has been NO evacuation alert or order at this point. That hasn’t stopped people from going on Facebook and saying they heard from someone who heard that we were being evacuated; or that they saw the army moving through; or other such gossip.

Look these last two weeks have been tough, there’s no doubt. This smoke isn’t helping but neither is unsubstantiated rumours. As RDKB chair Grace McGregor said Thursday, people need to remain calm but vigilant. Don’t panic. Yes, you should have a bag packed with important items such as medications, papers, water and such. But that is just precautionary at this point. Spreading rumours just makes people more panicky and scared. All fear does is increase stress, which is definitely one thing we don’t need any more of.