Evacuee parents put fears, anxieties on hold for sake of kids
Published Monday, July 17, 2017 11:10AM PDT
Last Updated Monday, July 17, 2017 7:01PM PDT
Before Jenn Plewes falls asleep, she sometimes cries wondering what's become of her family home in 108 Mile Ranch, which they fled over a week ago as menacing plumes of smoke billowed over the horizon.
But when the sun comes up, she puts on a brave face. She doesn't want to burden her two kids, ages 13 and 11, any more than necessary.
"You go to bed, have a few tears, try to suck it up in the morning and move on," Plewes said. "Especially for them, right?"
The family had been taking refuge at a friend's house around Williams Lake before one of the nearby wildfires jumped Highway 97 over the weekend, cutting off a major escape route and prompting officials to evacuate that area as well.
Suddenly, they were back on the road. Now in Kamloops, Plewes and her family are among roughly 35,000 evacuees across the province facing uncertainty, many with children in tow.
But the support they have received has been "absolutely incredible," Plewes said, and even though the turbulent times have already forced them to cancel a fishing trip for her son and summer camp for her daughter, they still have each other.
"That's what I've liked the most – that we're all together and we're all safe," Plewes said.
From a kid's perspective, the evacuee life isn't all bad, either. New environments can bring new places to explore and things to do.
Cathy Sanford, a Williams Lake resident who has also moved her family to Kamloops, said being displaced is giving her children "the time of their life."
"They love it," Sanford said. "It's like a holiday for them."
Some evacuees received good news on Monday; A fire near Kelowna that destroyed nine homes in Lake Country is now three-quarters contained, and residents have been allowed to return to all but 69 evacuated properties.
Officials also announced evacuees from Cache Creek should be allowed to return Tuesday afternoon, though they will remain on evacuation alert. The threat posed by the nearby Ashcroft fire has diminished, but it’s still burning out of control.
"While the Ashcroft fire continues to remain active, residents must be prepared to leave at any time. Residents will be given as much advance warning as possible prior to the evacuation; however you may receive limited notice due to changing conditions," the Thompson-Nicola Regional District said in a news release.
Unfortunately, other evacuees had their worst fears confirmed.
Officials from the Cariboo Regional District said teams have managed to survey the damage in the area northwest of 100 Mile House, and began phoning evacuees Monday to let them know their homes have been lost. The tally has yet to be released publicly.
Overall, chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek said the province’s wildfire situation has stabilized since flaring up over the weekend, and Sunday’s relatively cool and calm weather is expected to last for a couple days.
That could give way to lightning on Wednesday and a potential thunderstorm on Thursday, which Skrepnek described as a “bit of a double-edged sword.”
“Obviously the rain will be welcome but that could bring some lightning with it as well,” he said.
As of the latest count, crews are battling 159 wildfires across B.C., 15 of which are threatening communities. The flames have already scorched an estimated 188,000 hectares of the province, and Skrepnek said the true figure is likely even greater.
"That hectares figure, the total area burned, is very much an estimate given how much fire we have on the landscape and given how much trouble we've had mapping them through the smoke," Skrepnek said. "I suspect it's a larger area than that."
By comparison, the 10-year average is 154,000 hectares destroyed over an entire wildfire season.
There are nearly 3,000 personnel involved in the fight, from firefighters to support staff. That includes 1,000 contractors from the forestry industry and 450 people who have come in from out-of-province.
Another 50 specialists and support staff are expected to arrive from Australia this week as well.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith and The Canadian Press
To the thousands of evacuees in BC - we're with you & doing all we can to help. A huge thank you to everyone working to keep people safe.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 17, 2017