They’ve come from Loon Lake, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and 150 Mile.
They’ve packed what they could into their vehicles, sometimes with their pets and sometimes not, and headed away from home to evacuation centres around the province. And in the early morning Sunday, they began to arrive in Chilliwack.
This city was asked to help on Saturday night, as the evacuation alert in Williams Lake and surrounding communities suddenly turned into an evacuation order. Everyone had to leave, pushing the total number of evacuated people in B.C. over 30,000. A long, slow convoy made its way south of Williams Lake on Hwy. 97, then the smaller Hwy 24 to Little Fort. Many of those would be housed in Kamloops and Prince George, but some were expected to trickle down to the Fraser Valley and Vancouver area.
Immediately, Chilliwack’s Emergency Social Services (ESS) crew jumped into action, turning Chilliwack secondary school’s gymnasium into an evacuation and reception centre. They set up 124 cots with tented covers, brought in supplies and resources, and prepared for the arrival.
Jamie Leggatt, spokesperson for the city, said 190 people came through the centre Saturday and Sunday. Prior to the centre being staged, they helped another 140 people over Thursday and Friday. Not all of those 330 evacuees are staying in Chilliwack.
“Many have arrangements with family and friends elsewhere in the Lower Mainland and they registered with us before continuing to their accommodations,” Leggatt said.
The evacuation centre will remain open at CSS as long it’s needed, she added. That decision is made between the municipality and Emergency Management of B.C. Leggatt says they are well staffed at this point (Monday) but volunteers are still encouraged to sign up to help.
People who have time to volunteer can go directly to CSS between 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to register. Those people will be called to volunteer as the need arises.
People can also contact the BC Wildfire Evacuee Support Facebook Group.
“We understand that many evacuees are making use of that site,” she added.
People can also make a donation to the Canadian Red Cross.
As for those in the community worried that evacuees will be targeted by opportunistic thieves, ESS has Griffin Security on site and they will remain there as long as the reception is open.
Chris Wilson, emergency program co-ordinator for the City of Chilliwack, says volunteers have done a remarkable job, and he praised the Chilliwack school district for accommodating the evacuation centre at CSS. The Chilliwack Salvation Army has also mobilized to help. They are feeding lunch and dinner to people in the centre, and were looking for volunteers who would commit to a week of their time.