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Life in limbo: Wildfire evacuees struggle through nail-biting wait

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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. -

More than 2,000 people forced to pack up and leave Fort Nelson, B.C., are trying to adjust to life as evacuees, and the constant concern about what is happening back home.

“Got to stay positive,” Luca Mastroianni told CTV News outside the Fort St. John evacuation support centre Tuesday. “You don’t stay positive? Man, it’s going to be a losing battle.”

Mastroianni and his wife, two boys, two cats, three dogs and one rabbit had only a few hours to get out. “The uncertainty is really what’s got everybody right now,” he said. “We don’t really know 100 per cent what’s going on.”

What they do know is the monster Parker Lake wildfire has been burning as close as only a kilometre and a half from their homes.

“You just hope that your house is safe. It’s just very stressful,” said Brittney Johnson outside the evacuation support centre.

Johnson only had about an hour to leave her Fort Nelson home, and she had her hands full. Her husband was out of town, so she singlehandedly packed up their four children, pets and trailer, to get out of town.

“It was horrible,” she said. The family reunited on the highway, during the four-hour drive south to Fort St. John.

About 50 people defied the evacuation order that went out Friday, and remain in Fort Nelson. Some are sending updates via social media on the firefight. They are now the only residents of what now resembles a ghost town. There is fear of looting, and RCMP confirm they have made arrests related to property crime.

Just another worry on a long list for thousands of weary families. However, they say one thing helping to lighten the load is support from the province, and the overwhelming welcome they are receiving from their Fort St. John neighbours to the south.

Donations are pouring in – a call for pet food and supplies was answered within hours, and local businesses have stepped up.

“It’s always incredible to be able to showcase what the north is known for. We’re the ‘energetic city’ for a reason. We come together when needed,” said Ryan Harvey, the city’s information officer. “One thing our community is known for is opening doors.”

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