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'We'll look after you': Locals feeding, housing Fort Nelson evacuees

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With thousands evacuating Fort Nelson due to a wildfire encroaching on the town, nearby communities are opening their doors to those who’ve had their lives turned upside down in a matter of moments.

Evacuees have been flooding to communities like Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Prince George and anywhere else that will take them.

About a two-and-a-half hours’ drive south of Fort Nelson, Pink Mountain's local inn is busy.

Staff at the Buffalo Inn scrambled to action when the evacuation orders came, opening their doors.

They have around 60 guests so far and expect more.

"They were putting rooms online, cleaning, baking, putting food out, getting people checked in,” said owner Melody Magaton.

“A lot of very upset people, people that are very uncertain of what's happening in their lives, it's just been unbelievable how everyone has pulled together.”

Magaton said even evacuees have been eager to lend a hand.

On Monday, the Buffalo Inn was approved by the B.C. government as a vendor so they could help more people, after already welcoming many surprise guests over the weekend. People needing assistance can sign up at the emergency support centre in Fort St. John, though Magaton added she’ll take in anyone.

“We won’t turn anybody away, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile, other people from Fort Nelson have been trying to help, even from afar.

North Paw Animal Rescue told CTV News over the weekend many Fort Nelson residents had to leave pets behind as they scrambled to get out.

The small rescue and volunteers were coordinating over the weekend between pet owners and people still in town who could help feed animals or take them away with them. But their resources are limited and too many people need help.

‘The fire ended up getting really close'

Some residents have stayed behind. A group of volunteer firefighters are still in town waiting to spring into action if needed.

Other locals, like Cheyanne Lynch, said for now they’re safe and plan to stay.

She’s with two others and a gaggle of dogs at her home, about 30 kilometers out of Fort Nelson.

Lynch initially stayed to help her family.

“I had to go back to my mom’s house where the fire originally started because she needed some medication and I had to go clean out her freezer and make sure everything looked good there,” she said.

“But the fire ended up getting really close to us so we were able to just get in and get out and grab what we needed.”

She said right now it’s hard to get back into Fort Nelson. When she has ventured back, the town was uncharacteristically quiet.

Lynch, like many, is stuck waiting for more news. She said she’s staying put for now.

In surrounding areas, locals have been offering help such as free day care and gym passes, discounts at stores and free barbeques. Some First Nations are welcoming evacuees.

But for those still without a place, or some stragglers from Fort Nelson, the Buffalo Inn has vacancies.

“If you can’t get to Fort St. John, don’t sleep in your vehicle, don't go hungry, go to Buffalo Inn,” Magaton said.

She said anyone looking for a room can call or text her at (250) 731-6747.

“We’ll look after you.”

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