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Friendly face making best of wildfire situation

A familiar, friendly face to many in Williams Lake, Justin Johnnie is doing his best to remain positive.
Williams Lake resident Justin Johnnie - a familiar, friendly face to many in the community - is doing his best to stay positive while evacuated to Kamloops. (Greg Sabatino photo)

A familiar, friendly face to many in Williams Lake, Justin Johnnie is doing his best to remain positive in light of the wildfire evacuation order currently in place in the lakecity.

The 65-year-old Second Avenue resident - often greeting passersby with a smile and a wave - is currently residing at the evacuation centre at Sandman Centre in Kamloops after leaving Williams Lake Sunday, July 16 with his brother and sister, who he shares a home with.

“We (my brother, sister and I) drove bumper to bumper and got here at about 4 a.m. (Sunday),” Johnnie said. “We were tired, then had to wait a couple days for our bed to get signed in.”

Priding himself on living a sober life, Johnnie said many of his acquaintances have turned to alcohol to deal with the stress of being evacuated.

“It’s rough,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get my $600 from the Red Cross and wish I was back in Williams Lake, but I’ve been sober all this time. I drink lots of coffee, pop and water and hoping to get the hell out of here and go back home soon. That’s the honest way.”

He commended the work of all the volunteers at the Sandman Centre for all they’ve been doing for the evacuees and, as a selfless gesture, has been picking empties for his friends who he said need the money more than he does.

“I’ve been giving all my empties to a buddy of mine,” he said. “He needs it more. He moved up about 10 years ago from Williams Lake to Kamloops. He’s a true friend.

“But the people here (at Sandman Centre) have been nice, and all my friends, too, from Williams Lake, and they’re feeding us well here, but I miss my bed. I miss my TV, my VCR,” he said. “I should be on disability but I’m not.”

Johnnie grew up in Toosey, but said when he was three years old he was run over by a car and left in a coma for six months.

“My hips are all buggered up,” he said, explaining he’s unable to work and lives off $500 a month through income assistance.

“I left Toosey when I was three and bounced around through human resources into foster care but now I’m looking after myself.”

Despite the situation, Johnnie said he likes the city of Kamloops, the people and the way he’s been treated.

“Everyone’s been great. I’m just ready to go back home.”

Greg Sabatino

About the Author: Greg Sabatino

Greg Sabatino graduated from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops with a Bachelor of Journalism degree in 2008.
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