As wildfires rage throughout the Interior and Cariboo regions, British Columbians are offering their hands, homes and hearts to support displaced neighbours and their pets.
Fire crews battled more than 180 blazes Saturday after a provincial state of emergency was declared, and while they risked their lives on the front line to protect people and their property, many nearby residents and businesses helped those affected in whatever other ways they could.
Since Thursday, the largest blazes have displaced residents of Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Princeton, 100 Mile House, 105 Mile House, 108 Mile Ranch and 150 Mile House.
Thompson Rivers University opened its gymnasium as a shelter for evacuees while restaurants and cafes in the regions offered free food to children and discounts for those impacted.
Michael Bednar, 47, a photographer who moved to 108 Mile Ranch from Vancouver six years ago, rescued his neighbour’s cat and dog after fleeing from his home. A friend in Williams Lake gave them a place to stay.
“I’ve got a friend who’s taking in people with horses and people with no place to go,” he said. “Lots of people are just pitching in, in whatever way they can.”
Bednar, who has worked in the forestry industry and dealt with wildfires before, said the devastation this week has been unlike anything he’s ever seen.
Neighbours are frequently checking in on one another and sharing whatever they learn from updates from the Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre, he said.
Many people are offering to help others in their time of need on social media platforms such as Facebook, where about a dozen groups are soliciting donations and offering food, clothing, rides, spots for camping and rooms in their homes.
Ernie Beadle, owner of an industrial business in Kamloops, offered up his two-acre compound for people to park their RVs, boats and other “toys” away from the flames.
Beadle said he had nine requests for help within 90 minutes of posting his offer publicly.
He recalled the devastation of the wildfires in 2003, during which he loaned his entire home to a displaced family and their pets for two weeks.
Beadle said it felt only right to help his neighbours again.
“A lot of people in Kamloops are reaching out to try and help people,” he said. “It’s pretty neat to see.”
Meanwhile, 265 firefighters are expected to arrive from other provinces early next week to assist the 1,000 firefighters already at work in B.C.
Premier-designate John Horgan issued a statement Saturday saying he was working with a Liberal minister to provide support and resources to the evacuees, firefighters and first responders impacted by the crisis.
“Like all British Columbians, I’m increasingly concerned about the grave situation confronting the residents of Interior communities like Cache Creek, Ashcroft and Williams Lake in the face of worsening wildfires,” Horgan said.
“Today I contacted John Rustad, the minister in charge of firefighting operations, to offer my unqualified support for his efforts to confront this crisis. He has spoken with the federal government and they are prepared to do whatever they can to help. I am also scheduling a complete briefing with response officials.”
With files from The Canadian Press