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BC wildfires force closure of credit union branches

Williams Lake & District Credit Union (14,000 members and $250 million in assets) was forced to close its 100 Mile House and Williams Lake branches this past July due to wildfires in British Columbia’s Cariboo-Chilcotin Region. 

The 100 Mile House branch was closed July 9 after an evacuation order for the town of about 2,000 was issued by provincial fire and forestry officials, who feared that winds would push a nearby, out-of-control fire into the community. The Williams Lake branch was closed July 12 after an evacuation alert for the city of 10,500 people was issued. It reopened the next day but with shortened hours, Williams Lake & District CEO Jim Zimmerman told Enterprise by phone. The credit union’s branch in Bella Coola remained open, however, it too was on high alert, says Zimmerman, who had to flee his acreage, located outside of Williams Lake. (At deadline, the 100 Mile House branch was still closed.)

The credit union published updates on its website, with messages to members that debit and credit cards were still working, as were online access and mobile apps. “This is a good test of our business continuity plan,” Zimmerman says.

The fire season began in April, with 680 blazes consuming 1,110-square-kilometres of grass, bush and forest by mid-July. Many of the fires started in early July, sparked by lightning storms or human activity. At deadline, 40,000 people had fled their homes, with many taking shelter in emergency centres in the BC communities of Prince George, Kelowna and Kamloops.

BC and Ontario credit unions, employees and Central 1 Credit Union donated money for Canadian Red Cross relief efforts. ◊