Williams Lake residents getting out

Miles St. Amand is hustling at Sun Valley Gas just off Highway 97 in Williams Lake.

That's because there are only three gas pump jockeys at this full-service station, which normally has a contingent of 12 or 15.

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Like many of the other residents of this community, they have joined the exodus from Williams Lake, which has been under a wildfire evacuation alert since Monday. Many have gone to Prince George.

St. Amand said the manager and even the accountant have jumped in to pump gas, particularly in the first two days of the evacuation alert when there was a steady stream of people leaving.

"Everyone is digging in," said St. Amand, who has been working 12-hour shifts.

"As long as we have gas, we'll get people the gas."

So far, it has not been a problem trucking fuel in from Prince George, he said.

Businesses such as Save-On Foods and Boston Pizza are also getting supplied. However, other stores have shut their doors or reduced business hours because of the evacuation alert, either because of staff shortages or concern for the safety of their employees.

Restaurants such as Denny's, Mr. Mike's, McDonald's and A&W are closed. Save-On and Boston Pizza are on reduced hours, as is Sun Valley Gas.

On one block in downtown Williams Lake, only one business was open, the Open Book, on reduced hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Nine other businesses, including CIBC, were closed.

Most have signs saying they are closed until further notice because of the evacuation alert or the wildfire situation.

West Fraser's sawmills in Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Chasm have also been closed.

Next door to Sun Valley Gas, up on the highway strip, Tim Hortons remained open.

Alek Sharman, whose family owns the business, said they are working with less staff, but he said everyone is pulling together.

He said his family felt it was necessary to stay open to help the firefighters, police officers and others, many from southern B.C. and Alberta, who have come to help Williams Lake and other communities in the area.

They have been filling orders of 80 to 100 breakfast sandwiches at one shot for firefighting crews, he said.

He added he couldn't say enough about his staff. "I'm so proud of them."

The restaurant has also received a ton of support from the TDL Group and manager Bruce Knudsen in Langley, including ensuring that supplies made it to Williams Lake, he said.

"It's been amazing," said Sharman. "This is not just one community coming together, this is a community of B.C., everyone has come together."

Numbers that residents are sharing estimate the exodus anywhere from 20 per cent to 60 per cent of the 10,000 residents in Williams Lake. It is surely on the lower end of the estimates.

Cariboo Regional District officials have said the evacuation alert could last for weeks because of a lack of forecast rain and a dozen large fires burning in B.C.'s Interior.

Crews continue to battle major fires to the northeast of Williams Lake by the city's airport, on the west near 150 Mile House and also to the northeast.

In Williams Lake, it was clear most of the day Thursday, but a smoky haze hung over the area Friday.

It's a community waiting to see what happens next.

Still, some like St. Amand at Sun Valley Gas, have decided to stay.

His vehicle is fuelled up and he has an air mask ready if needed, and although he said this is the worst wildfire situation he's seen in his 45 years in Williams Lake, he feels safe.

Said St. Amand: "It all depends on (Saturday) because of the wind that is predicted."

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