July 17, 2017 8:57 pm

South Okanagan prepares for influx of wildfire evacuees


Wildfire evacuees may soon be calling a Penticton hockey arena their temporary new home.

Four-hundred cots were set up in the concourse level of the South Okanagan Events Centre on Monday.

“Two days ago they said we might get 100-150 now it’s all of a sudden we’re doing 400 beds, that’s giving me all of the signals that there are people coming,” said Bill Billups, a volunteer with Emergency Social Services in Penticton.

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The influx of evacuees was expected after an exodus of residents from Williams Lake and surrounding areas, who were ordered to evacuate their homes over the weekend.

An estimated 37,000 people across the province are now displaced from their homes due to more than 150 wildfires raging across B.C.

“The province asked us on Saturday if we could open up to receive any evacuees. Just from a capacity point of view there is obviously so many people that are out there looking for space,” said Mark Woods, Emergency Operations Centre Director with the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

Eighty-five people had registered at the reception centre set up in the Penticton Community Centre by 2:00 p.m. on Monday.

Penticton is one of many new locations evacuees can sign up for shelter and food as pressure mounts on the already crowded reception centre in Kamloops.

Meanwhile, in Keremeos more than 100 spaces are available at the rodeo grounds for evacuees with RV’s.

Mac Watson, president of non-profit association Elks Lodge 56, said washrooms, showers and space for animals is also provided on site.

“They have all had to evacuate on a moment’s notice so they’ve come with basically what is in their RV’s and I feel sorry for them because I wouldn’t want to be put in that predicament,” he said.

The south Okanagan is stepping up to help their neighbours in crisis.

“If you need help, we will be there to help you,” said Watson.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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