‘We’ve Got a Monster Out There:’ Dozens Turn Out for Evacuee Town Hall
Prince George, B.C. – “How much longer until I can go home?”
That was just one of several questions asked by evacuees moved to Prince George due to the wildfire situation in the Cariboo at last night’s town hall meeting in the Canfor Theatre at UNBC.
“It’s hard to say,” responded Mark Hamm, deputy fire centre manager with the Cariboo Fire Centre. “It’s incredibly dry, it could take weeks.”
Hamm told the dozens in attendance the conditions in the Cariboo are twice as dry this summer as it was in the summer of 2010 – the most recent summer the region was ravaged by wildfires.
Pressed by another evacuee if the BC Wildfire Service could have done more to prepare for the onslaught of wildfires we’ve seen the past week, he said likely not.
“This is really an unprecedented event. To have so many fires all at once. We were just overwhelmed. It’s the same throughout the province. We were as prepared as we could have been I think.”
Al Richmond, chair of the Cariboo Regional District, said as of last night, the CRD had issued 18 evacuation orders and another eight alerts in his region. Decisions he said that weren’t made lightly.
“No one’s keeping you out of your home because they want to. No one’s issued an order or alert because it’s fun. It’s serious business.”
Asked about lost structures in the Cariboo so far, he confirmed six property owners had lost structures (two in the 108 Mile area and six in the150 Mile area).
Asked if anything was stopping Williams Lake residents from going home Richmond said nothing but the Highway 97 closure just south of Quesnel but advised against it anyways.
“The air here (in Prince George) you can breathe – the air in Williams Lake is not good to breathe,” he said.
“Safeway and Overwaitea are open but Walmart and Canadian Tire are closed in Williams Lake. You can’t get a haircut, I tried to get one today. So, you could go home but if something happens this weekend you’ll just be coming back to Prince George.”
(The ER at Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake remains open.)
100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall became emotional when noting issuing the evacuation order in his community Sunday night “was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
He added it was necessary though because of the fast-moving Gustafsen fire.
“Things escalated very quickly starting Friday so I had no choice. We’ve got a monster out there.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Morris addressed the reported looting going on throughout the Cariboo and said he’s taking action.
“I just signed a letter this afternoon authorizing the RCMP in B.C. to bring in more resources from out-of-province to make sure that your communities are safe,” he said.
“I know there’s been some issues of looting and break and enters. We’re very cognizant of that. We’ve put a few of those bad actors in jail.”
Asked if she received the answers she was looking for last night, Williams Lake resident Mellissa Svendsen said “not really.”
“Because what I am looking for is when is it going to be reasonable for me to go home and I can see the alert going on most of the summer and I don’t really want to stay in Prince George most of the summer,” she said.
“It’s wonderful here but I’d like to go home. So, my question is how long is this crisis stage? And I really didn’t get an answer. On the other hand, it’s possible I didn’t get an answer because there really isn’t one.”