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UNDER EVACUATION: Prince George, Kamloops prepare for long term

Housing, medical care top of list for evacuees with no clear re-entry date in sight

One in a ten-part series showcasing the volunteerism, community and resilience surrounding those evacuated due to the wildfires engulfing parts of the B.C. Interior.

It’s been more than two weeks since Prince George welcomed the first set of evacuees – now a community within a community of 9,300 people – and part of an unprecedented evacuation of 45,000 Cariboo residents to other parts of the province.

The length of the evacuation orders are in the hands of the weather and fire activity of 15 wildfires threatening communities.

B.C. Wildfire Service said it could be “weeks,” but also that weather can be unpredictable.

RELATED: Gustafsen fire 90 per cent contained

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall says plans for the long-haul are needed – especially where the roughly 600 people staying on cots at the two evacuation centres in town would be housed.

“We can’t have people on cots for months and months, that’s just not gonna work,” he said, adding plans will rely on projections supplied by B.C. Wildfire Service.

“We’re anxious to see what they mean by long term.”

In the meantime, more services are now being offered including laundry and mail services, as well as kids camps.

Pop-up clinics have been set up for evacuees, being run by doctors in the regions – some evacuated themselves.

Williams Lake’s Dr. Joliel Steyl initiated the clinic in Prince George shortly after arriving to the evacuation centre at the College of New Caledonia.

Dr. Steyl, who is an emergency room doctor, has been camping in a local campground with her family like many other evacuees, according to the city of Prince George.

Working at the clinic has given evacuees a familiar face in an unfamiliar time, backed by support of local staff.

“Physicians cancelled holidays to cover shifts,” said Steve Raper, Northern Health chief communication officer.

As evacuees deal with exhaustion, possibly sleeping outdoors and some in close quarters with strangers, the temporary clinic in Prince George has seen upwards of 500 patients.

The Interior Health Services temporary clinic in Kamloops is seeing about 35 patients a day, run by nine physicians, nurse practitioners and assistants.

“We’ve seen all sorts of medical need at the clinic, including chronic illness support through monitoring and assessment, basic wound care, blood pressure issues, anxiety, sprains, flu-like systems – you name it they’ve seen it,” Interior Health spokesperson Tara Gostelow said.

Re-entry process could take time

Prince George and Kamloops have worked tirelessly to adapt to the rapid uptake in local populations – with hundreds of volunteers donating their time and homes.

“In one week our city grew ten per cent,” Hall explained. Kamloops, with a population of about 90,000 people, received a majority of evacuees from Williams Lake last week.

Even when the re-entry process does happen, it’ll most likely happen in phases – with air quality and transportation a few of the things considered.

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb has also said the lakecity would still be on an alert.

“Able-bodied are allowed in first,” Raper said, noting it takes time to reactivate a hospital.

Currently there are about 180 acute care patients in various facilities in Prince George, and 60 in Kamloops.

“When an evacuation is over, people in our care are traditionally very close to the end,” he said.

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