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‘These are unprecedented numbers’: More support for Okanagan wildfire evacuees

There are 9,855 properties on evacuation orders with thousands more on alert
Wildfire evacuees at the reception centre at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna on Aug. 19, 2023. (Brittany Webster/Capital News)

Additional supports are coming for Central Okanagan residents forced out of their homes by wildfires.

Currently, there are 9,855 properties on evacuation orders, with thousands more on alert.

“These are unprecedented numbers,” said Loyal Wooldridge, Regional District Central Okanagan (RDCO) chair, during a regional wildfire briefing on Monday (Aug. 21).

“I know that the queue has been long, and we have been working on solutions. Please be patient with support staff.”

Emergency Support Services (ESS) Supervisor Jason Beddell acknowledged the lengthy waits some evacuees have experienced.

“I will say that our resources were stretched thin initially, I can’t deny that,” he said.

He noted that many ESS volunteers, who have been evacuated, don’t even know if they have a home.

“Yet they are still showing up every single day to support their community. They deserve our admiration.”

Beddell added that additional staff, provided by the province, are currently being trained and will be in place shortly.

“We are working to get back to those (evacuees) who reached out to us initially, and further information will be coming soon.”

He also encouraged evacuees who are having difficulty accessing a reception centre to call the provincial ESS line at 1-800-585-9559.

Members of Samaritn’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid organization, arrived from Calgary Sunday (Aug. 20) night to set up and manage a new group lodging facility.

“I am working diligently to operationalize a second reception centre in that location,” said Beddell.

ESS is also still working to prioritize accommodations for evacuees.

“We are very grateful to those visitors who have voluntarily left their hotel rooms and this has greatly increased our capacity for evacuees,” added Beddell.

Additionally, psychological support is available to evacuees, staff, and volunteers at Prospera Place in Kelowna and Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada is also available to evacuees who are unsure what their homeowner policies cover by calling 1-844-227-5422.

As well, a virtual portal is being created to inform evacuees where they are in the queue for assistance.

“This will be online and more information will be available at,” said Beddell.

He noted that the ESS is pulling out all stops to support evacuees.

“We are extremely appreciative to the province who have been working hand in hand with us to remove the roadblocks that we are coming across. We need to get these supports to our evacuees and we are doing that.”

READ MORE: More than 800 Central Okanagan wildfire evacuees in Vernon

READ MORE: ‘Laugh and cry and repeat’: West Kelowna woman’s motto after losing home in wildfire


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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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