Frank Bellerose was hoping the winds of change in Williams Lake would not bring wildfire smoke his way.
But there was no way to avoid it Saturday evening; the wind shifted and within a few hours he got the news he has been fearing all week. An evacuation order was issued to the city of 11,000 and it was time for him to leave.
The White Lake fire north of the city jumped Highway 97 near Soda Creek and everybody in the Williams Lake district has been ordered to leave the city. A bulletin issued by Emergency Info BC at about 6 p.m. Saturday was directing people to the emergency centre at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, about 3 1/2 hours away.
"The smoke was good for awhile when the wind was blowing the opposite way but that's changed," said Bellerose, who has family in Prince George. "I guess we've got to head south. Kamloops is a place I didn't want to go. I was seeing if they would change their mind but I don't think so."
The city of Williams Lake was not under any immediate threat Saturday when the order was issued. Bellerose was watching TV when the bulletin flashed on his screen. He loaded up his car for the trip with a few of his belongings, important papers, photographs, and an urn containing the ashes of his wife Jessie, who died a few years ago.
"We came together, we'll leave together," he said. "Where do you start and where do you stop with a little car."
An estimated 60 per cent of Williams Lake residents had already left the city, most coming to Prince George, after the city was put under evacuation alert on Monday.
"I guess the fire jumped the (Fraser) river and at Soda Creek, up in that area, it's bad enough that you can't get through there," said Bellerose. "That's the main highway."
Al Richmond, chair of the Cariboo regional district, on Global news Saturday night was advising evacuees from Williams Lake evacuees to go to Prince George, where the city is better equipped to handle a new wave of displaced people.
"In Prince George they are far better prepared to accept you than they are currently in Kamloops," said Richmond. "(Kamloops) had the influx of people coming up from Ashcroft and Cache Creek so they're feeling the stress at the moment of all the work they're having to do. We would prefer if people went on to Prince George if at all possible, but they will try to accommodate them."
Richmond said Williams Lake was not being threatened by flames but the major concern was keeping the highways open.
"The flames are not reaching the hill to come over and injure you but we're concerned about safe routes out of here so now is the time for people to please orderly get in your vehicles and head south," said Richmond.
If they do come to Prince George, the evacuees would turn left at Little Fort and travel north on Highway 5 to the Highway 16 junction, which is about three hours eat of Prince George. Prince George mayor Lyn Hall says the city is ready to accommodate those people.
"We've got a number of beds ready and we're just waiting to talk to the provincial operations group and I think there's a chance we may see some evacuees come," said Hall.
"This is very tough news for the people at Williams Lake and those folks from Williams Lake who are in Prince George, but we're ready. We have 7,000 evacuees in the city and only a small fraction of them are staying at CNC or up at the university,everybody else is in commercial lodging or people's homes or camping.
"That's almost 10 per cent of our population that we've increased over the last week. We've been reassuring people that we have the services and the capacity to look after this, we've got lots of facilities and the ability to feed a lot of people is there."
Saturday afternoon the Prince George Hospice Society hosted a Forget the Fire - Evacuees Free Fun Day at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park, with a free barbecue, live musicians and activities for teens and kids like video games and an inflated bouncy castle. The four-hour event was well-attended, with shuttle buses bringing evacuees from the College of New Caledonia, UNBC and Prince George secondary school.
"It's things like that we're trying to do to keep some entertainment happening just to try to give folks a reprieve and take their minds off things for a bit," said Hall.
"The thing that's struck me all among is the outpouring of support from the community. The number of organizations that came to the park today to provide for the evacuees was absolutely incredible."
On Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. in front of City Hall at Sixth Avenue and George Street, the city is hosting Summerfest with live entertainers,a food festival and street vendors.
Hall spoke at a town hall meeting Saturday night at UNBC and had hoped to have Mark Hamm, deputy fire centre manager for the Cariboo Fire Centre on hand to provide an update of the fire situation but Hamm was in Williams Lake helping his family evacuate.
At that meeting, Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, reported a helicopter had crashed in the Chilcotin area while fighting the fire on Saturday. Bond said the pilot escaped without serious injury.
University Hospital of Northern B.C. spokesperson Steve Raper said the city's hospital has opened additional spaces to be able to accept any additional hospitalized patients from the Williams Lake evacuation. A health services management clinic is available at the evacuation centre at the College of New Caledonia and is open from 8 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily, with a nurse available 24 hours per day.
In addition to the emergency department at UHNBC, the city has two clinics staffed by doctors and are available to the estimated 7,000 evacuees now in the city. The Nechako Medical Clinic at Spruceland Mall at 761 Central St., West is open Monday-Friday from 1-9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 1-7 p.m. The Salveo Medical Clinic at SuperStore, 2155 Ferry Ave., is open from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekends.
Evacuees already registered at the evacuation centre at CNC (3330 - 22nd Ave.) will have their food voucher services extended another 14 days. People staying in hotels and group lodgings will have evacuation centre staff come to them to update their registration forms. A shipment of about 600 hygiene kits containing toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, towels, T-shirts and underwear from Disaster Aid Canada were delivered to CNC and the Northern Sport Centre on Saturday and are available to evacuees.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada has established up a resource centre in front of Prince George secondary school for evacuees who have confirmation the wildfires have destroyed their homes or damaged personal property to get their claims started. It will be open from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.