It has been a busy time, said Williams Lake’s manager of development services on the two-week anniversary of wildfires erupting around Williams Lake.
“Our core staff is working 13 to 14-hour days so we are trying to get people out for a few breaks,” Gary Muraca told the Tribune. “The smoke we have seen could be around until October. I think it’s a sign of the times.”
At the same time, he said the city is working on an re-entry plan and hopes to have a draft completed by Friday evening.
“We know that everyone wants to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Currently there are four city employees working at the airport fuelling all the firefighting air craft, a couple of mechanics doing maintenance work for fire trucks and other required repairs.
Five core public work staff are putting up barricades or signs, watering the city’s gardens and have been taking care of the community garden and greenhouse so that when people return all the produce will be intact.
Muraca said staff are also patrolling neighbourhoods and responding to calls from evacuees who are perhaps worried they forgot to lock the doors at home or to unplug their pool.
“We cannot do huge jobs because of the smoke. We don’t want to expose people to the air for too long.”
The city’s water system has to be maintained as well to ensure when residents return they will be able to drink the water, he added.
At 3:30 p.m. Friday, Muraca said it looked good outside and the air quality index had greatly improved, but he was hesitant to say that might last.
“It’s better, but we are not out of the woods yet,” he said.
Earlier today more members of the military arrived in Williams Lake.
They are staying in the arena at the Cariboo Memorial Complex and all the army vehicles are parked outside.
Mayor Walt Cobb said the military will help man barracades and do traffic control.
The city is also in the process of contacting hotels, grocery stores and gas stations about being able to return to provide services to the community, Cobb said.
People have been contacting the City to get re-entry permits, but at this point Muraca said it’s on a need-to-need basis.
Earlier in the week a freezer died at Save-on-Foods, he confirmed, so the store has been in the process of removing the spoiled food and also preparing to be up and running for when the city can let everyone return.
“Everyone recognizes that people want to come back, but we have to be organized because we are talking about 11,000 people returning all at once, plus people who live outside the city limits who use our services,” Muraca said.
Cobb said the logistics of re-entry involve preparing the emergency room at the hospital and making sure powerlines are restored so when people return they don’t overload the transformers.
“It’s beautiful today,” Cobb pointed out. “There’s less smoke than we’ve had in the last two weeks.”