Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said Saturday he thinks about 60 per cent of the population of Williams Lake has returned home. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo.

Mayor Cobb says about 60 per cent of the population has returned home

Mayor Walt Cobb Cobb estimates about 60 per cent of the population has returned home to Williams Lake since the evacuation order was downgraded to an alert two weeks ago.

“I know some have not come home because of the smoke,” Cobb said Saturday, standing above the Stampede Grounds with the wind blowing strongly behind him. “It would be nice to get back to a sense of normal, although I don’t know what that is anymore.”

As for lifting the evacuation alert for Williams Lake, Cobb said he does not have a time line for that at this point.

“People are saying we are leaving the alert on because of the smoke, but it is not because of the smoke. You look at other places where there’s smoke in the province and they are not under alert. It’s not the smoke that causes the alert it is the proximity of fires and what they might do, especially with the wind coming up.”

Cobb has only gone on one flyover to see the wildfires in the region and said he would like to go for another one to compare, but said with the amount of smoke the area has seen recently it has not been possible.

Even the BC Wildfire Service has had difficulty doing flyovers regularly to check for hot spots, he said.

More military personnel will be arriving in Williams Lake to replace the 200 that were here initially, although Cobb said this time they will be stationed at the old Glendale School off Mackenzie Avenue North instead of at the Cariboo Memorial Complex.

“There are about 400 coming, but 200 of them will be going out to Riske Creek to help in that area,” he said. “I’ve also been told, but have not had it confirmed, that unlike the first military personnel that came here, some of the new military coming in have had some firefighting experience so they will be able to assist some of the ranchers who have been fighting fires on their own.”

Cobb said while the agenda for the city council meeting scheduled for this coming Tuesday isn’t big, it will was important to have a meeting.

“It will be the first meeting we’ve had in a while and there have been some things on hold,” Cobb said. “I understand we may have a problem getting a quorum because some city councillors will be away but they can also phone in.”

During Friday evening’s conference call with the BC Wildfire Service, Cobb said they were told the winds expected for the weekend are not a good thing because while they blow away the smoke they increase fire activity.

“We did heard the fire service feels it has a handle on the fires near Williams Lake and that it feels better about the guards that are in place. Chief Ann Louie asked about helicopters flying near 150 Mile House area Friday and was told there were some flareups out there and they were dropping as much water on those areas as they could.”

As of Saturday afternoon, the city had not received any of the rain in the forecast, he commented.

When asked if he’s tried out the new pool, Cobb chuckled and said he has not had any time.

It has been more than five weeks now since the wildfire season began in the Cariboo and Cobb said it is hard to believe that much time has gone by already.