City of Chilliwack staff and ESS volunteers were thanked by EMBC official Ian Cunnings this week for helping thousands of wildfire evacuees last summer through the high school evacuation centre. (Jennifer Feinberg/The Progress)

Chilliwack recognized provincially for helping thousands of wildfire evacuees

EMBC officials appeared in chambers to offer ESS volunteers and staff some appreciation

Chilliwack was thanked profusely this week by Emergency Management British Columbia for its role in helping thousands of wildfire victims evacuated from their homes one year ago.

“I am very proud to say, that without prompting, the City of Chilliwack stepped up in a big, big way,” EMBC official Ian Cunnings said Tuesday in council chambers.

He appeared before council to acknowledge city staff like Assistant Fire Chief Chris Wilson who coordinated the Emergency Operations Centre, and the Emergency Social Services (ESS) volunteers, who assisted evacuees fleeing the devastation last summer during worst wildfire season B.C. had ever seen.

READ MORE: Chilliwack takes evacuees to heart

“We’re coming up on a year ago Friday there was a series of lightning strikes that went through the Interior and the Cariboo,” Cunnings said.

Those strikes ended up sparking a wildfire season so devastating it was “biblical” in nature given the size. Adding insult to injury was the Williams Lake wildfire situation that broke out a week later.

All the fires led to about 6,500 being forced to flee south, rather than north to Prince George, as those routes were blocked.

Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Surrey ended up taking in those evacuees.

An evacuation centre was opened at Chilliwack secondary last July to meet the immediate needs of the evacuees fleeing the flames.

“Staff and volunteers here in the City of Chilliwack performed admirably,” Cunnings said.

Those who arrived in Chilliwack, after being ordered to leave their homes, found a friendly reception centre and a way to register online to alert friends and family of their whereabouts, and access emergency support. Cots were been set up in the gymnasium, and quiet areas were set aside for families.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz thanked the EMBC rep who was in chambers this week, in turn, for acknowledging Chilliwack with his presence and plaques of recognition.

“The credit goes to the volunteers,” she said.

The wildfires were so traumatic and it was “refreshing to see the outpouring of support” that Chilliwack offered, from help with pets and livestock, and more.

“There was an astounding amount of volunteer time logged,” noted the mayor, at almost 5,000 hours.

In all 2,100 people were looked after in Chilliwack, and 150 local volunteers stepped forward to help.


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