In Kamloops, warm hospitality and hours-long lines meet evacuees
Published Monday, July 17, 2017 10:29PM EDT
As scores of wildfires rage through British Columbia’s Interior and Fraser Valley, more than 40,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Most have headed to Kamloops -- a small and picturesque city whose resources are being stretched to their limits
“When we evacuated the 108, you could look out our window and all the trees were red from the sun blowing through the smoke,” young Hailey Plewes, who was forced to leave her home in 108 Mile Ranch with her family nine days ago, told CTV Vancouver outside of Kamloops’ packed evacuation centre. “It looked like the fire was right there.”
Hailey is missing summer camp and her family still doesn’t know when they will be able to go home.
“It’s been a very emotional road,” her mother, Jenn Plewes, said. “Some days are obviously better than others. You go to bed, have a few tears, kind of ty to suck it up in the morning and try to carry on, especially for them, right?”
The evacuees are being well-cared for, with a small army of volunteers offering food, services and advice. But with thousands of people arriving -- many understandably traumatized after spending hours on crowded, hazy highways, not knowing if they will ever see their homes again -- Kamloops is close to being overwhelmed. Resources are stretched and more volunteers are needed. The streets surrounding the evacuation centre are hectic and the line to register for services and a bed can take hours. It is the largest evacuation that the city has ever seen, and certainly on the shortest notice.
Janet Hicks had been waiting for an hour and a half to register when CTV Vancouver caught up with her. Her brother’s wait was even longer.
“He had to wait quite a while,” the Williams Lake resident said. “He said about four hours.”
For some, the wait is almost over. Many Cache Creek residents arrived ten days ago and are now about to return home.
“The RCMP will be there,” Thompson-Nicola Regional District information officer Debbie Sell said. “There will be a checkpoint for people to go through.”
Roughly 35,000 others, however, are still in limbo.
The centre has provided a bit of relief, though. Armed with balloons, local entertainer Uncle Chris the Clown has been busy amusing the evacuation centre’s children.
“I can’t fight fires,” he said. “But I can put smiles on their faces.”
Parents too are working hard to make it all less traumatic for their kids.
“They love it,” Williams Lake resident Cathy Sanford said. “They're having the time of their life -- it's like a holiday for them.”
Although the majority of B.C.’s wildfire evacuees are in Kamloops, at least a thousand others have driven further south into the Lower Mainland in the hopes of shorter lines to access the help they need. The Red Cross has seen a surge in registration at evacuation centres in Chilliwack and Surrey, though many beds remain empty as evacuees opt to stay with family and friends. Further from the wildfires, evacuation centres in these southern cities have been set up as a contingency in case winds and weather make the situation worse and cause another wave of evacuations.
But for Hailey Plewes, there’s a silver lining to being forced to flee her home with her family.
“That’s what I’ve liked the most,” she said. “That we’re all together and we’re all safe.”
With reports from CTV National News’ Vanessa Lee, CTV Vancouver’s Breanna Karstens-Smith and The Canadian Press.