Roughly 300 Cariboo Regional District residents nearly filled Kamloops’ Sagebrush Theatre Monday evening for a public meeting for evacuees.
Local elected officials including acting mayor Arjun Singh of Kamloops, representatives from the BC Wildfire Service, the Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery team, the RCMP, Red Cross and Interior Health each spoke to the audience before fielding questions ranging from a variety of topics.
“This is an unprecedented time in B.C.,” Thompson Nicola Regional District chair John Ranta said to those in attendance.
Williams Lake City Coun. Craig Smith, who was representing Williams Lake mayor Walt Cobb who stayed behind in the lakecity to help with firefighting efforts, said the people of Williams Lake need to be proud of the way they handled the situation.
“I’m very proud to represent Williams Lake,” Smith said, explaining the city was evacuated due to the White Lake fire north of the city, which hopped the Fraser River Saturday evening.
“We were worried the roadways would be blocked off, so it was more of a precautionary measure.”
He added buses collected 200 residents who were without transportation to evacuate the city.
The White Lake fire is currently seven kilometres from the city, however, BC Wildfire Information Officer Navi Saini said there is still no immediate threat to any structures within Williams Lake.
“The wind forecast for Saturday did occur and caused significant growth (to a number of fire),” Saini said. “It continued Sunday. Safety is our number one priority, keeping crews safe and the public.
“The evacuations are a precautionary measure.”
Several of the fires in the region have merged together, which Saini referred to as complex fires. Currently, 14 wildfires of note are burning in the Cariboo.
The Hawk’s Creek and 150 Mile fires have converged and is now estimated at 13,000 hectares and has been renamed the Wildwood Fire. That fire, however, is 70 per cent contained, she said.
The Hanceville/Riske Creek fire complex is now sitting at 98,000 hectares.
The White Lake fire, meanwhile, is 10 per cent contained and at 8,000 hectares.
“Crews are arriving daily and from around the province,” she said. “Crews are now arriving from Australia … the fire danger rating throughout the Cariboo remains extreme.”
As various speakers finished providing information, a question and answer period followed.
Questions focused mainly on the size and threat of fires in specific areas in the Cariboo, resources being deployed, containment levels and information from the Red Cross in receiving emergency relief funds.
Kamloops RCMP media relations officer Jodie Shelkie notified the crowd police are stationed in evacuated communities providing ground support and patrols 24 hours a day.
Emergency Management of BC senior manager Peter Prendergast noted his organization focuses on bringing various groups together to assist with resources.
“Currently we have 55 evacuation orders throughout the province,” Prendergast said. “About 55,000 people have been evacuated and there are 14 states of local emergency.”
Naomi Armstrong, representing the Red Cross, discussed the importance of registering with evacuation centres.
“And for people without online banking (to receive their $600), we have pre-paid payment cards or sometimes a cheque,” she said.
CRD chair Richmond said he’d like to thank the city of Kamloops and the TNRD for its hospitality as they welcomed 100 Mile House and lakecity residents with open arms.
“Right now we are inventorying losses in communities affected and are contacting people who have lost their homes directly,” Richmond said, noting there are serious steps that need to happen before residents can return home, adding there is currently no way to know when that will happen.
Mitch Campsall, 100 Mile House mayor, was visibly emotional as he addressed the crowd.
“The firefighters, they’re heroes,” he said. “They’re doing everything they can to bring the community home safely. We have not lost anything in 100 Mile. When I pushed that button I did not think we would have a community to come back to. I’ll never forget the time – 8:47 p.m.”