Evacuees from B.C.'s fire-stricken Interior reach the Lower Mainland
Evacuation centres now open in Surrey and Chilliwack
The skies are clear of smoke in the Lower Mainland but the effects of the wildfires raging in B.C.'s Interior are being felt as evacuees begin to stream in.
Evacuation centres have been set up in Chilliwack and Surrey, providing evacuees a place to register with the province and to sleep if needed.
Manola Khounviseth arrived in Chilliwack Sunday after leaving Williams Lake Saturday evening.
"As we were leaving, all I could think to myself was that we were in hell, because it was so hot," she said.
"It was difficult to see that the town was being emptied out."
Wildfires have put an estimated 36,600 people out of their homes around the province.
'People are traumatized'
Sharon Gaetz, mayor of Chilliwack, said the evacuation centre at Chilliwack Secondary School had about 300 people come through on Sunday, mostly from Williams Lake.
"Make no mistake: people are traumatized," Gaetz said. "The loss is just incomprehensible."
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Gaetz said most are just passing through to register en route to stay with family and friends in the region, and only a handful stayed the night.
The centre is also giving out vouchers for groceries and billeting information for those looking for a place to stay.
A similar evacuation centre has also been set up at the Cloverdale Arena in Surrey.
Long drives through the night
Gaetz said many people left for the Lower Mainland after Saturday's evacuation orders expecting a five- or six-hour drive, but ended up being on the road for as much as 10 to 12 hours.
"There were a few tears. People were a little shaky," she said. "I think they're just so grateful to come out with their lives."
Khounviseth said the going was slow, but orderly.
"The line was long, and slow, but seeing [fire officials and police] there to guide us, it helped us to feel a bit more settled because we knew that we would be directed to the right place," she said.
Gaetz said the centre in Chilliwack has enough volunteers at the moment, but encouraged anyone wishing to help to donate to the Red Cross.