British Columbia

'I've met some beautiful friends': wildfires create new connections in B.C.'s Interior

As some evacuees of B.C. wildfires return home, phone numbers and addresses are being exchanged as people strive to remain in touch with new friends and newly discovered family.

As some evacuees return home, people make plans to stay in touch with volunteers who helped them

Beverly Tashoots plans to visit wildfire evacuees she met while volunteering at the emergency reception centre in Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

As wildfire evacuees boarded buses to take them home to 100 Mile House after more than two weeks of living in Prince George, Beverly Tashoots stood nearby shooting video with her cellphone. 

"I'm saying goodbye to my friends," she said. 

Tashoots is spending time volunteering at the emergency reception centre in Prince George, driving elders on errands around town and helping them during an emotionally trying time.

Now, as some residents of the Cariboo are allowed to return home, it was Tashoots' turn to feel emotional.

"I've met some beautiful friends, and to see them leave..." she trailed off. "It's really happy tears."

Jessie Pruden of 100 Mile House approached CBC with a message she wanted to share before returning home: "Thank you, Prince George." (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Tashoots said she plans to take a road trip south to visit some of the people she's forged a relationship with over the past weeks, and she wasn't alone. Throughout B.C.'s Interior, thousands of people seeking refuge from wildfires have connected with thousands of volunteers offering help and homes.

Jessie Pruden, who's spent the last 15 days sleeping on a cot in a college gym, said she was feeling nervous about returning home after being so well looked after.

"My heart will stay here," she said. "I met a lot of people."

That includes family members from Williams Lake that Pruden had never met prior to wildfires forcing them all into Prince George.

"All my nieces that I never knew ... we got along," she smiled, adding that plans are now in place for a family reunion under better circumstances. 

"It was really awesome."

That sentiment was echoed by other evacuees as they climbed on board the bus with pets and luggage.

Elizabeth Anderson is seen off to 100 Mile House by volunteers at the emergency reception centre set up for wildfire evacuees in Prince George. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

"Everybody's so kind!" exclaimed Elizabeth Anderson. 

"Thank you Prince George," added a woman behind her. "Thank you everybody!" yelled a third.

It isn't certain the farewell will last: thousands of evacuees from the Williams Lake area still have to remain out of their homes, and those returning are being told to prepare to leave at a moment's notice.

​The mix of happiness, uncertainty and camaraderie was captured by Mark Thompson as he climbed on board to return home. First, he started singing with one of the volunteers who'd been helping look after him for the past two weeks. Then, he turned to the small crowd assembled to see them off.

"Take care guys," he yelled.

"I hope to hell we never get evacuated again!"

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