Feature

'We got what we could': Fire evacuees find shelter in Kamloops, B.C.

More than 39,000 people are under evacuation orders across B.C. and the first stop for many of them has been the evacuation centre in Kamloops.

'As we left, the smoke was billowing in behind us': Fire evacuees find shelter in Kamloops, B.C.

Gary Bennett has been living a life of solitude in Williams Lake, B.C., for nearly two years, but one of the draw backs to his lifestyle is that he doesn't have a car or anyone to give him a ride. 

So when the evacuation order hit the town on Saturday, the 62-year-old said he had to hitchhike to Kamloops. 

"What do you do right? You don't have a vehicle or anything, so I walked," said Bennett. 

"Everyone was screaming by me and no one would pick me up. A trucker guy stops and says this is no place to be, so he gives me a ride," he said. 

Since then, Bennett has been pitching a tent and sleeping in the park across from the evacuation centre in Kamloops.

He plans to continue doing that, even though there are cots available at the emergency services centre. 

Bob Kellen, on the other hand, who fled Lone Butte — a community northeast of 70 Mile House — decided to sleep inside the arena.

"Well, what can you expect when you're evacuated ...You're going to take what you can get, you know?" said Kellen. 

The emergency services centre moved from Thompson Rivers University to the Sandman Centre on Saturday night, after seven new evacuation orders were issued, including the one for Williams Lake and surrounding areas. 

The centre was buzzing over the weekend as volunteers handed out cold water and food to those arriving. The Canadian Red Cross booth had long lineups throughout the day, as evacuees waited to register for financial benefits. 

Just a few feet away, the animal services tent was swamped trying to take care of pets while their owners waited to register. 

By the break of dawn on Saturday, the Kamloops centre was near capacity after several bus loads of evacuees arrived in the city.

It took some 10 to 12 hours to make the trip that normally takes less than four hours.

"We've been travelling all night, the roads were packed," said Ruth Downes, who boarded a bus from Williams Lake and was waiting to register at the centre.

"As we left, the smoke was billowing in behind us," she said, with a small blue suitcase by her side. 

"I probably left some things behind," she said. "But you should travel light in an evacuation order you want to have what's necessary and you deal with life as it comes."

Downes plans to spend the next few nights inside the reception centre.

On Sunday, Kamloops–South Thompson MLA Todd Stone urged people to check in at some of the other 11 emergency reception centres across B.C., particularly those in Surrey, Vernon, Merritt or Chilliwack if possible.

On Monday morning, Canada's Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said 39,000 people are under evacuation orders across B.C.

Evacuee Susan Tomlins is fortunate enough to have a place to stay with her daughter in Westsyde, Kamloops. 

Despite having a comfortable bed, she won't be resting easy. 

Rumours are her home in Loon Lake has burned down.

"Everything is there, except for photos and I got my computer out. We've lived there for 42 years, so basically everything is still in the house. We got what we could," she said breaking into tears.