Evacuees continue to find respite in Vernon

Local ESS centre has seen just under 1,000 evacuees - including most recently families from Clinton

Vernon may have escaped the volatile wildfire situation, but the city’s welcome mat is still extended to all those being forced from their homes around B.C.

The Emergency Social Services centre at the Vernon Recreation Complex remains in place, having seen just under 1,000 evacuees so far. Of those 800 are extensions – those who have had to come back following their initial seven-day registration. While the majority are from Williams Lake, most of whom are now extending their stay as they remain on evacuation alert, Vernon has helped every evacuation area in B.C., including most recently 10 households from the Clinton fire.

“All of our households are billeting, so staying with family and friends,” said Luana Kaleikini, emergency management coordinator. “We have not had to use the group lodging. It is a last resort, but we are still set up. The province has asked us to keep those operational at this time.”

There are 250 beds set up at the curling rink and another 200 at the Civic Arena, ready to be used if needed.

“Our concern is that the conditions are still so volatile. We’re planning based on having more evacuations throughout the province,” said Kaleikini.

Considering the extreme fire danger and scorching temperatures, those lucky enough to have not been affected by fire and reminded to be prepared, just in case.

“The conditions are such that it’s really important for people to be ready. Have a grab and go bag, be prepared,” said Kaleikini, reminding residents to include important documentation and medications.

Interim fire chief David Lind also urges residents to be ready to move on short notice, but doesn’t want to raise alarm bells, as the area is well-equipped to handle an emergency.

“We’ve been quite fortunate to date,” said Lind, adding that Vernon resources haven’t been asked to assist provincially yet, while area volunteer departments are lending a hand.

Residents are also asked to continue to be diligent and report smoke, even though the department has been called out to a few false alarms – including barbecues.

“That’s OK, it’s good to be reactive and get on top of those things very quickly,” said Lind. “When they are small we can catch them when they’re small.”

Meanwhile, a big thank you is going out to all the locals who are helping their neighbours around the province during this difficult time.

The ESS centre has had 168 walk-in volunteers (those who are processed at city hall).

“The volunteers have been incredible and come out in huge numbers,” said Kaleikini.

From those doing paperwork and Red Cross volunteers from provinces away, even to those lending a hand with evacuated pets.

Those with pets can get a break from caring for their furry friends as volunteers have an area set up with carriers, space to run, and even a little turf to play on in the Outdoor Centennial Rink.

“We just had a family yesterday that wanted to go to the pool, they had two dogs and were camping, so they were able to bring the dogs and take the family to the pool,” smiled Kaleikini.

Meanwhile the Salvation Army has been providing meals to volunteers and evacuees at the rec complex with a truck capable of putting out 300 meals per hour.

Evacuees can also access food, clothing and toiletry donations at the SA’s House of Hope.

But donations have been coming in so fast and furious that a halt on donations is being sought as the House of Hope has actually run out of room.

jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com