Up to 37,000 people out of their homes because of wildfires: province - 660 NEWS
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Up to 37,000 people out of their homes because of wildfires: province

Last Updated Jul 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm MDT

Smoke and fire is visible along Highway 20 to Williams Lake. (Treena Wood, NEWS 1130 Photo)

At least 160 wildfires are burning in the province, 14 of which pose a direct threat to communities

WILLIAMS LAKE (NEWS 1130) – The province estimates between 36,000 and 37,000 people have been displaced by wildfires that have been burning across British Columbia for more than a week.

162 fires, including 27 fires of note, are burning now. 2,900 people are fighting the fires, with 203 aircraft assisting ground crews.

Todd Stone, the minister responsible for Emergency Management BC, admits it’s a very challenging situation, especially for evacuees.

“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been evacuated, the uncertainty that they feel. We want them to know, all evacuees to know, that their government and their fellow British Columbians and in fact people across the country have got their backs.”

Stone says more than $80 million has been spent on fighting the wildfires.

Extra mental health support volunteers are being deployed to areas including Prince George and Kamloops as the wildfires take their toll on many who’ve been forced from their homes. Deputy provincial health officer Doctor Bonnie Henry says stress is a normal response to an abnormal situation.

“It’s a very frightening time as we’ve heard, it’s a time of uncertainty. And we know that with evacuations large numbers of individuals gather together at reception centres, they’re dealing with a high level of stress,” she says.  

Henry is urging people to keep an eye on symptoms of stress including having an upset stomach, feeling confused or having difficulty sleeping. She says anyone feeling stressed should make use of the psycho-social services available at evacuation centres.

In Williams Lake, thousands of people have been forced from their homes after an evacuation order was issued for that city and surrounding areas last night.

Many of Williams Lake’s 11,000 people left voluntarily, however the order means thousands more were being forced to evacuate the area.

In Williams Lake, Andrea Moleschi is one of those ordered out of their homes on Saturday.

“I don’t want to go, my memories are here.”

She and the rest of her family took what they could before heading south.

“I packed all my mementos, pictures, my marriage certificate, my wills, everything. House insurance,” she says. “We have only one way to go, and that’s south to Kamloops.”

Meanwhile, some homes have been destroyed by fire along Okanagan Lake. An evacuation order is in effect in Lake Country.

Central Okanagan Emergency Operations says 10 structures have been damaged by the flames. Firefighters from Kelowna and Peachland are among those helping out. The fire is reportedly about 80 per cent contained.

An evacuation centre has opened up in Kelowna for the evacuees from Lake Country.

Last night, MP Todd Doherty told evacuees already in Prince George to pressure others still in Williams Lake to get to safety.

“If you are talking to your family, if you’re talking to your friends and your neighbours in the Williams Lake area, as I am, still trying to get my mum and relatives out of that area, very stubborn, it’s very stressful. We need them to evacuate, we need them to be safe, we need all of you to be safe.”