Chilliwack residents moved to help fire victims

Officials asking people to donate cash, not clothing, to Red Cross for fire evacuees

“Heartwrenching.”

“Praying for everyone’s safety.”

“My heart is heavy.”

These are just a few messages posted on Chilliwack Progress stories regarding the wildfire situations evolving throughout the Cariboo region of B.C. With less than a four-hour drive between here and 100 Mile House, for instance, many in Chilliwack have connections to interior communities.

And some of those people are still waiting to hear where their loved ones have gone following evacuations, and if ranches, businesses and homes are still standing.

Linds Hlokoff’s family is one of many in upheaval this week.

“I have family in Ashcroft and Cache Creek, 16 mile and 100 Mile whom have been evacuated,” she wrote on Monday. “And the fire is headed towards my grandparents’ and our family’s ranch (Maiden Creek).”

With so many fires starting up in just two or three days, BC Wildfire Service was hearing about new fires faster than they could post them online. And with the focus on evacuating so many rural addresses, the information coming out of the affected areas has been slow, and even sometimes reported inaccurately.

David Doerksen wrote that he has a cousin near Princeton, where another wildfire is burning.

“News says no homes lost,” he said. “But the truth is that they have lost their home. So sad for them.”

It’s that empathy that drives people to want to help in any way they can. And it’s a feeling Chilliwack people are familar with. About one year ago, this city’s residents banded together overwhelmingly to truck supplies and cash up to the Fort McMurray residents who were evacuated then. They filled truckloads of goods and made their way north, where the generosity of essentials such as toilet paper, bandaids, eye drops and diapers was well recieved.

So naturally, social media chatter started immediately regarding helping out a little closer to home this time. Offers of room and hay for horses, accommodations and basic neccessities were posted everywhere. A few people collected two small trailers of items including bottled water and hay at the Chilliwack’s Salish Plaza on Sunday, to take up to Kamloops.

Last year’s Chilliwack for Ft. Mac Facebook page was unarchived over the weekend so that people could connect and discuss ways to help.

Liz Rasmussen is organizing a few trucks, with hopes to leave by Thursday for Kamloops.

“My goal is to have trucks in Mission for drop off, then Abby and then Chilliwack,” she says. “Goal is basics for now. Water, Gatorade, hay, animal food, litter, snack items, diapers, wipes gift cards. No clothes for now. Most people being displaced i’m told have few clothes but won’t have anywhere to keep it (at the moment).”

Officials are asking that do-gooders hold off on bringing physical donations to evacuees, though. There are multiple evacuation centres stretching from Kamloops to Prince George, and highways closed at many points in between. And the situation is still changing by the hour.

The City of Prince George has taken in a few hundred of the evacuees, housing many of them at the College of New Caledonia campus, in student housing and in the parking lot for those with RVs. Hundreds more have been set up at the Northern Sports Centre.

“There have been many generous offers from residents to volunteer, donate, or even offer their homes to evacuees,” the municipality posted on their website. “Offers to donate food, clothing, and other items, while kind, can create logistical issues for staff that can hamper efforts to help the evacuees. For this reason, the City is encouraging people wishing to donate to do so via giving funds to the British Columbia Fires Appeal with the Canadian Red Cross.”

There are also evacuation centres in Williams Lake, Quesnel, Kamloops, and Princeton.

Organizing massive donations takes extra resources, and often large amounts of donations are ultimately sent to landfills.

But there are ways to help.

A special British Columbia Fires donation page has been set up on the Red Cross website. Donations to the B.C. Fires Appeal will help provide immediate relief such as cots, blankets, family reunification as well as financial assistance so individuals and families can get the food, clothing, shelter, and anything else that can help them recover from this tragedy.

People can also help by donating to BC Food Banks, which has set up a donation page specifically for the fires.

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