Volunteers rally together to support B.C. wildfire evacuees
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, July 17, 2017 4:21AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 17, 2017 7:00PM EDT
As 162 wildfires continue to rage across British Columbia forcing approximately 37,000 residents to flee their homes, volunteers and emergency workers have pulled together to support the evacuees in their time of need.
Reporting from the Sandman Emergency Reception Centre in Kamloops, B.C. on Monday morning, CTV’s Vanessa Lee described how the Canadian Red Cross and other volunteers are helping those who escaped a fire near Williams Lake, B.C. on Saturday evening.
The evacuation centre has been providing families with coffee, food vouchers, and other personal items, Lee said.
“We saw a sign behind us that said, ‘animal services,’” Lee said. “Volunteers here are trying to look after every small detail, whether it be toiletries or supplies for people’s pets.”
Thousands of residents in the central B.C. Interior city of Williams Lake scrambled to leave their homes on Saturday, after high winds fanned a wildfire burning outside the city and prompted an evacuation order.
Lee said the majority of evacuees spent eight to nine hours driving on jammed-packed highways south to Kamloops for a trip that might typically take approximately three hours. She said buses were also sent to pick up those residents without access to vehicles.
The Kamloops evacuation centre set out hundreds of cots for those evacuees who were unable to find accommodation in the city’s hotels.
In addition to the services being offered at 11 evacuation centres across the province, hundreds of British Columbians have stepped up to offer up their homes as accommodation for those affected by the wildfires.
One woman who lives near Kamloops posted in a Facebook evacuee support group that she had a tent trailer available for a family to stay in.
Kristi McLean, a mother of an autistic son, told The Canadian Press that the trailer would be a good environment for a family with a child with special needs, such as autism.
“Being in an evacuation centre, I know it wouldn't be good for us, for sure," McLean said. "Any family with special needs that need a place ... we're cool with it."
Other Facebook users offered up rooms, and in some cases entire houses, for evacuees to live in during the emergency. A few residents even said they would be able to provide shelters for evacuees’ pets.
“We have space available for evacuee horses, sheep, goats, chickens and a few dogs and/or cats," one poster said.
Items such as clothing, food, baby supplies, blankets and toiletries were also offered up by some British Columbians looking to help.
Fans of the HBO show Game of Thrones were even given the option of viewing the popular series’ season premiere on Sunday evening in one poster’s home, who posted that she’d be willing to host seven or eight people.
“There's not much I can do to help with accommodations but I can definitely house some people for a couple of hours for some entertainment - take their minds off things,” Kayla Charest told The Canadian Press.
Lee reported that the emergency evacuation has been stressful for residents who have no idea when they will be allowed to return home.
More than $81 million has already been spent on fighting the fires in B.C., according to Lee.
As of Monday evening, approximately 3,000 firefighters have been deployed to battle the fires, many of which are still burning out of control. Approximately 400 of them are from outside the province and on Tuesday, they’ll be joined by an elite team of 20 frontline firefighters from Nova Scotia. 50 firefighters from Australia are also expected to join the effort on Wednesday. The Canadian Forces, meanwhile, has also dispatched more than 150 personnel and several aircraft while the RCMP has deployed 500 to patrol evacuated communities.
With files from CTV’s Vanessa Lee and The Canadian Press