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More than 1,000 wildfire evacuees in Vernon

Most from West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation, Westside Road, Kelowna and Lake Country, some from Shuswap area

The evacuee count is growing in Vernon.

The Emergency Support Services reception centre at Kal Tire Place has welcomed and registered more than 1,000 evacuees since Aug. 17.

Most have come from West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation, Westside Road, Kelowna and Lake Country. Some evacuees have also come from the Shuswap area, near the Adams Lake fire.

And so far, everyone has found a place to stay.

“For the last couple days, we have been able to find accommodations for everyone who has come into the Vernon Reception Centre and needed a place to stay. If necessary, Vernon also has an ability to open group lodging,” said Christy Poirier, ESS information officer.

Some rooms came available with tourists and visitors planning to leave the Okanagan on their own. The Premier’s announcement about no non-essential travel to the Okanagan also helped increase room capacity for the ESS program.

Not all evacuees require assistance with accommodations. Some just need referrals for food or toiletries and clothing.

One couple, forced from their home in Fintry Friday, said while they had to sleep in their car one night, the care has been excellent. They are now staying at a local hotel and have received help from the Okanagan Humane Society for placement of their dog.

Groups, businesses and individuals are coming together to assist anyone who needs it.

“We have had a number of community members reach out and ask how they can volunteer with ESS and be part of this current response. At this time, we are not calling for new volunteers,” said Christy Poirier, ESS information officer. “We have a strong pool of trained ESS volunteers who have been ready and willing to assist as we’ve needed over the last several days. They’ve done an outstanding job.”

Those who are still interested, can visit the City of Vernon website’s ESS program information.

In order to work in the reception centre, they will need to fill out a volunteer application. Those applications would then need to be processed and then applicants would need to receive some training and going through an onboarding process.

“As we are still processing a high volume of evacuees right now, we are unable to process new applications right now, but this is on our team’s radar and we are having discussions about if or when we may need to onboard new applicants.”

Those who have applied to volunteer and haven’t heard back from the city yet, are asked to have patience and understanding.

The city’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) remains activated at a level 3, while also monitoring the fire situation in the Central Okanagan and Shuswap regions. The city has remained in close contact with neighbouring communities, BC Wildfire Service and the Province of B.C.

“In addition to monitoring fire activities, the city has been diligent to review its own emergency response plans and staff are ready to act if something happens locally,” said Vernon fire chief David Lind.

“Over the last several weeks, VFRS has provided both personnel and apparatus to help with firefighting efforts in the southern and central regions of the Okanagan.

“Although we’ve been sending resources outside the community to help neighbours, we want to reassure residents in Vernon that if we have an emergency event happen here, we are resourced and ready to respond immediately.”

Most regional departments have crews deployed elsewhere, including a team of three Coldstream firefighters in Lake Country.

BX-Swan Lake crews are also assisting in West Kelowna and Adams Lake. Chief Bill Wacey is in Sparwood.

But Capt. Scott Lypchuk said teams are prepared for local emergencies.

READ MORE: Traders Cove hit hardest in Westside wildfire

READ MORE: Wildfire 7 kilometres outside Armstrong 1.1 hectares


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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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