Wildfires burning in B.C. have provoked 20 evacuation orders and dozens of alerts. A group of volunteers have mobilized, touching down in some of the communities acting as refuge for thousands of displaced residents.
Village of Burns Lake councillor Charlie Rensby is one of the Burns Lake residents helping move donations to people in need, including the men and women tirelessly fighting the fires.
“We often keep coolers full of ice and Gatorade and water, as well as care packages of things like face masks, lip chap, moisturizer lotion to try and help out the firefighters,” he said. “We have people who are packing some of those care kits for the firefighters, we have people who basically organize and also deliver items out to certain people when it’s needed.”
Just last week, Rensby was driving along the fire lines and spotted a volunteer firefighter head-to-toe covered in ash and soot.
“All you could see was his eyes,” he said. “We roll down the window and say ‘hey, do you want some water or Gatorade?’ and we suddenly see this sharp, white smile pop out.”
The group, originally started out of Fort McMurray received an honourable award from Premier John Horgan after last year’s fires displaced more than 65,000 people.
Volunteers helped look after families long after the wildfire craze passed, Rensby said. In one case, a family who lost their home in the fires wasn’t fully settled into their new one until after Winter.
But this year, the group has grown, working as a network with organizing depots in three cities: Prince George, Burns Lake and Quesnel, as well as Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Each location has five to seven volunteers each day, explained Postmen social media director Dave Llewellyn. Those at the depot keep lists of what is needed most and where they need to go.
Llewellyn, who works out of the Quesnel depot, said he started helping with the group after losing everything in a house fire last year. The community was quick to offer a helping hand – and now Llewellyn is wanting to return the favour.
“I’ve not ever been in a wildfire alert situation myself, but I have lots of family that are on alert,” he said. “When I lost my house and everything we owned and of course it was devastating. Just knowing what I went through, I hate to see anybody go through that – the little children and the elderly displaced from their own homes… having someone there helping, that’s what it’s all about.”
Llewellyn said it’s been exceptionally touching to see people show up at the depot with boxes of donations and handmade care kits already put together.
For Rensby, the part that makes it all worth it is seeing what a simple donated item, like a bottle of water, can do for someone who has been dealt such a tough situation.
“You know what, it makes a difference to them, and seeing the fact you are making a difference to people who have been through such hard times – that’s what keeps you going.”
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Charlie Rensby, Burns Lake