A Chinook military helicopter is on its way to Ulkatcho First Nation (UFN) Wednesday afternoon (July 14) as the community prepares to evacuate members wishing to leave the community due to wildfires.
“The helicopter will shuttle passengers from Anahim Lake to Puntzi Airport,” noted the Ulkatcho First Nation on its Facebook page. “Buses will be at Puntzi airport ready for transport to the reception center in Williams Lake.”
The Hotnarko Creek and the Big Stick Lake wildfires have blocked vehicle access out of the community both east and west.
The Big Stick Lake fire and Hotnarko Creek fire both prompted the closure of Highway 20; one between Dean River Place and Dowling Road for 56.9 kilometres — from 15 km west of Tatla Lake to 22 km east of Anahim Lake and the other between Rainbow Range Trailhead and Elsey Road for 32.6 km, 38km to six km west of Anahim Lake.
UFN noted the Big Stick Fire (near Kleena Kleene) jumped over Highway 20 Tuesday afternoon. Crews are currently working on opening the road and there is a faller buncher enroute to remove trees.
UFN noted ESS and Ulkatcho staff will be available to provide support to evacuees. Snacks, water and an evening meal will be provided. Rooms are available for Ulkatcho members in Prince George, with transportation provided.
“People evacuated on the helicopter can have one bag with them. Accommodations for wheelchairs will be made. UFN staff are notifying pre-registered individuals of the arrangements.”
“It’s very scary because to Bella Coola the road was closed and to Williams Lake the road was closed … so we are blocked both ways and everyone is panicking here in Anahim Lake,” said resident Charlene Elkins, who told the Tribune she was worried about her elderly mom.
If you are a member of the Ulkatcho First Nation and want to take advantage of the helicopter evacuation you must pre-register at the Band Office, this is required for bus arrangements and the number of required flights.
In Williams Lake, Erick Peterson, fire chief and EOC director for the city, said Williams Lake has activated its emergency operations centre to monitor the situation and support other communities such as the UFN.
“There is zero threat to Williams Lake at this time,” Peterson said Wednesday afternoon, urging residents to exercise extreme caution due to the dry conditions throughout the region.
So far, 20 First Nations elders from out west have registered in Williams Lake for emergency support services as have about a dozen stranded travellers who can’t get back home to Bella Coola.
Evacuees will be provided food and accommodations through the EOC on behalf of provincial Emergency Support Services (ESS) which are now set up at Williams Lake Secondary School to greet evacuees.
Peterson anticipates the Williams Lake EOC will also start receiving evacuees from the 100 Mile House area shortly due to evacuation orders being issued Wednesday morning in that area, and the fact that 100 Mile House itself has also been placed on an alert.
“We are starting to ramp up our reception centre,” he said, noting no volunteers are needed at this time.
“My role right now is to monitor the region and support the communities in the region if required.”