As soon as the ESS Centre was set up at Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake Campus Wednesday afternoon (July 15), weary travellers began to arrive.
Fleeing from wildfires south and west of Williams Lake, about 30 families, some with trucks and trailers hastily filled with Rubbermaid containers, others with just a car and their pets inside, registered for emergency support services.
At the ESS Centre evacuees are served by volunteers who help them find accommodations and provide them with vouchers for food and other essentials as needed.
It didn’t take long and all accommodations in Williams Lake were full Wednesday, requiring evacuees to either choose to travel on further away from their homes to Quesnel and Prince George or stay put and even sleep in their car, as one man from south of 100 Mile House did at the Walmart parking lot.
Karen Perepelecta of Lone Butte was one of the lucky ones, getting one of the last rooms in town where she still was Thursday night when the Tribune checked in with her.
“It’s hurry up and wait,” she said. “Maybe we’ll get some good news soon.”
Perepelecta has taken the evacuation in stride.
“I’m feeling fine,” said Perepelecta, who was also evacuated in 2017. “I’ve only got things there (at home). They can be replaced. As long as I have a place to stay I’m a happy camper.”
Other evacuees were more stressed, in particular those having to leave animals behind.
One family who evacuated due to the Flat Lake fire had just 15 minutes to leave their home, and left behind 4-H animals such as bunnies, chickens and lambs. They were told someone would be checking on them.
Brad Mason, also of Lone Butte, waited in the parking lot of LCSS with his dog Archie while his wife Victoria went inside LCSS to register them. He received the evacuation order over his cell phone Wednesday, followed shortly after by a knock at his door by search and rescue members urging them to go.
“I like fire but not like this,” Mason said, sitting on the tailgate of his truck. The couple left behind food and water for their four sheep, but still worry about them.
They managed to secure a cabin rental at Mt Timothy, which made them happy they could stay closer to home.
For evacuees transporting animals, the Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre has supports in place to assist travellers who need to stop and give their livestock and pets a chance to stretch their legs, be watered and take a break. Those wanting to connect with those supports can call 1-866-759-4977.
Other evacuees, such as one group from Ulkatcho First Nation, had a long journey to reach safety.
They boarded a Chinook military helicopter Wednesday afternoon at Anahim Lake, flew to Puntzi Lake, then bused to Williams Lake, making a brief stop at the ESS Centre before busing further to Prince George.
When they arrived in Williams Lake at about 8 p.m. they were in good spirits.
“They handled it really well,” said Anthony Sims, a councillor for Ulkatcho First Nation and community health rep, of the helicopter and bus trip.
Sims was travelling and staying with the group in Prince George, to ensure they are all OK during their time evacuated.
Other members of the Ulkatcho First Nation wanting to evacuate awaited the opening of Highway 20, then drove to Prince George Thursday.
Eva Navrot, ESS assistant, said everything went well Wednesday.
“We got a lot done today.”
Navrot has volunteered with ESS since she was evacuated herself during the 2017 wildfires.
“It is a really hard time for people. It’s stressful,” she said of why she is compelled to volunteer her time to help evacuees. “And I just want to help out where I can.”
Dave Dickson is the ESS director for city of Williams Lake. As ESS director during the 2017 wildfires, Dickson has seen the evacuation and referral process streamlined from four years ago when evacuees were lined up around the block to register.
Now residents are encouraged to register in advance online when given an evacuation alert or order and that way they can register much quicker and at any EES in B.C. to check in.
“When there is an alert or an order you can register in advance. It’s just a very slick system,” said Dickson.
“That is the result of all the chaos of 2017.”
If people want to volunteer to assist evacuees they can send Dickson an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone wanting to reach the Williams Lake ESS by phone, they can call 250-267-4861.