A helicopter buckets wildfires as smoke rises from the mountains surrounding Zeballos in an Aug. 17, 2018 file photo.

A helicopter buckets wildfires as smoke rises from the mountains surrounding Zeballos in an Aug. 17, 2018 file photo.

Evacuation order lifted for most of Zeballos, but five homes still affected

Engineering firm says ‘there is no absolute safety’ for residents of hazard zones following wildfires

Zeballos, the small coastal village besieged by flames during last year’s wildfires, has lifted an evacuation order for 20 properties threatened by falling debris.

But seven lots are still affected by the evacuation order, which has been in place for eight months.

A map of the evacuation area shows the properties huddled against the eastern boundary of the village, which is hemmed by steep cliffs.

Five families live on those properties, according to village staff.

The changes came into effect on Thursday, following the publication of a new geohazard report in April.

The new report, produced by the consulting firm BGC Engineering, says its previous assessment was overly conservative.

Published in October, that report said wildfires led to a roughly tenfold increase in debris flow and rock fall probability.

Two consultants from the engineering firm hiked the burned slopes and creeks in March for their follow-up research, crisscrossing the mountains above the village.

Results of the study show a lower risk level, but “there is no absolute safety for residents in the designated risk zone,” according to the report.

READ MORE: Risk of falling debris in Zeballos increased ‘tenfold’ following wildfires – geohazard report

READ MORE: Zeballos evacuation order expanded due to danger of falling debris and slides

READ MORE: Campbell River and remote communities plan for wildfires amid mounting anxiety

It notes that “residents in the hazard zones are able to reduce their risk by avoiding using their property during inclement weather should they choose to return” following the lifting of the evacuation order.

The report also details a number of technical options for reducing the risk posed by falling debris.

Those include barriers, deflection berms, constructed channels and debris basins.

The report also suggests the village consider subdivisions away from hazardous areas for people wishing to relocate, “given the long-term projected worsening geohazards and associated risks faced by Zeballos from rising sea levels, predicted higher flood levels and intensification of extreme storms.”

Zeballos issued the evacuation order last August due the risk of trees, rocks and other debris falling from the scorched mountainsides.

The village expanded the order in early September to include 27 properties, including 13 residential homes and a hotel. The other properties were vacant lots, except for two with temporary structures like RVs.

The risk of falling debris also led to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to close North Maquinna Avenue, one of two links to the only road into Zeballos.

The transportation ministry reopened North Maquinna Avenue on April 25.

Zeballos has a population of 107 people, according to 2016 census figures.

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A map issued by the Village of Zeballos shows properties still under an evacuation order as of May 2 highlighted in yellow.

A map issued by the Village of Zeballos shows properties still under an evacuation order as of May 2 highlighted in yellow.

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