Grant Sopp has been camped out in a tent at the College of New Caledonia with his wife Katie and their dog for a week now and he's not expecting to go back home to Williams Lake anytime soon.
Especially now that his home 236 kilometres south of Prince George has been evacuated. The White Lake wildfire north of the city jumped Highway 97 when the wind picked up and all 11,000 residents of the city of Williams Lake and about 5,000 more in the surrounding area were ordered to leave.
Among an estimated 7,000 Cariboo residents now in Prince George who left after the wildfires were touched off by a dry lightning storm July 6-7, Sopp misses the comforts of his home and going with his dog for long walks in the woods in areas now threatened by flames.
"I don't mind camping, but this screws up your routine big time," he said.
Sopp says he's been well looked after at the emergency social services centre at CNC. The centre provides evacuees three home-cooked meals per day, he's got vouchers for groceries, can take hot showers in the college and Prince George residents have dropped by with food, coffee and donuts and have given him biscuits for his red healer-cross dog Braizee.
He's part of a small community of Williams Lake residents who have put down temporary roots in the west parking lot of the college campus and he says there one thing he's especially craving that would add to the comfort of his unplanned camping trip.
"I'd love to have a bonfire," said Sopp, 30, knowing B.C. is under a state of emergency and open fires are banned provincewide. "With having little kids around you could do smores, do campfire songs - you could make it like you're out camping and forget what's happening back home.
"I went to the Aquatic Centre today with a couple of buddies for two hours and it was so good to jump into the hot tub and have no stress."
Their tent is set up under a tree, which offers some shelter from the elements, but the young couple haven't had any real need for tarps. In a week they've only had one soaking rain shower and there's no relief in sight for Williams Lake with very little rain and more wind expected the next couple days. Wind gusts played havoc with fire crews in the area Saturday and they were forced to evacuate as well.
"I've been talking to my auntie, she's fighting the Wildwood fire right now and last I heard they're just trying to set up containment lines by doing burnoffs in front of the fire and as fast as it's contained it's going the other way," said Katie Sopp.
The fire put Sopp's accounting/business technology studies on hold the past week but she learned Saturday she can go online in the CNC library to get back to her courses.
Sandra Gery, 20, and her one-year-old son Arlo suffer from asthma and left Williams Lake when the smoke started getting thick over the city on Tuesday. They are staying in the same motel room with her friend and roommate, Sandra Asels, and her daughter Sakari.
Gery comes by the campsite at the college regularly to visit with the Sopps, and Katie has a standing offer to babysit to allow Gery to go to the pub or get her fingernails done. They've been issued wristbands which allow them entrance to the CNC dining room and entitle them to food and gas vouchers and restaurant discounts.
"We're from Williams Lake and we're out of our home and no one is able to work right now," said Gery. "My son has really bad asthma and was turning blue from smoke. The fire is right behind our house, just up the hill. That's the fire that was coming from by the airport and it's close to downtown. The fire at the airport and the one near 150 Mile House are both really bad. Last we heard they were three kilometres apart and if those connect our town will be gone. I just bought a house three years ago and it might be gone."
Gery's ex-husband was working at the Mount Polley mine, 56 km northeast of Williams Lake, until she got the call Saturday the mine had been shut down with the evacuation order.
Karen George lives in downtown Williams Lake, not far from the fire on Fox Mountain on the northeast side of the city and had four sleepless nights before she fled with her cat to Prince George. She's waiting out the fire sleeping in a tent she was given when she arrived.
"It was pretty bad out there and it was hard to breathe, I was getting shortness of breath and it was scary, especially at nighttime," said George. "I got scared when I saw the flames. There's no point in staying when there's flames on the mountain and I could see them from Save On (Foods).
"I'm here at least until the 30th, that's what they told me today. At least they've got my medication. People have been awesome, I've got everything for my cat I could possibly need. I got clothes from the Salvation Army and I'm happy about that."
Asels is originally from Kugloktuk, Nunavut and has known Gery since they were young girls growing up in Hay River, N.W.T. She and her young daughter moved to Williams Lake from Hay River in May. Until the fires forced them out, she had never been to Prince George.
"The city is very heartwarming, people here are very loving and very generous, I've never met such amazing people," said Asels, 23. "People have been donating stuff for the kids that they need. A lady came by who was moving to P.E.I. and gave us a bunch of DVDs and a DVD player and she gave Sakari an elephant teddy bear. People have been wonderful to us and I could never be more thankful for that. It definitely puts a light at the end of the tunnel during a time when it's hard."
© Copyright Prince George Citizen