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'We're still screaming for people to help': Volunteers work through night helping wildfire evacuees

CBC logo CBC 2017-07-17

Smoky skies greeted central B.C. on Monday morning as firefighters began another week trying to bring wildfires across the region under control.

There's no rain in the forecast for the next few days, but Environment Canada is cautioning people throughout the Interior and as far east as Saskatchewan about poor air quality due to wildfire smoke.

But temperatures are expected to be a little cooler Monday, with highs in the low 20s for the hard-hit cities of Williams Lake, Quesnel and 100 Mile House.

After strong winds whipped up the flames and caused many of the wildfires to spread aggressively on Saturday, crews were able to make headway during Sunday's calmer conditions, according to B.C. Wildfire Service information officer Kevin Skrepnek.

"We're certainly seeing progress out there, despite the challenges. It's hard progress to quantify," he said.

Though the forecast calls for continuing dry conditions, there are some positives in the outlook for the next few days.

"I don't think we're going to see the wind to the extent of what we saw on Saturday," Skrepnek said. "Of course, the damage has been done in many cases."

More than a dozen of the more than 160 wildfires burning through south and central B.C. are threatening communities. The largest fire, near Ashcroft, had ballooned to 52,600 hectares in size by Monday morning.

The entire city of Williams Lake was evacuated on Saturday, but a few residents have stuck around to help fight the fires closing in on the outskirts.

Active wildfires in B.C. as of 6 a.m. PT, July 17. © CBC News Active wildfires in B.C. as of 6 a.m. PT, July 17. Volunteers prepare breakfast for wildfire evacuees in Kamloops on July 17, 2017. © Denis Dossman/CBC News Volunteers prepare breakfast for wildfire evacuees in Kamloops on July 17, 2017.

Tim Menning runs a timber company in town, and said he's been getting by on bologna sandwiches for the past few days as he helps with the battle.

The sun rises through smoky skies above the Sandman hotel in Kamloops, which is serving as a wildfire evacuee reception centre, on July 17, 2017. © Denis Dossmann/CBC The sun rises through smoky skies above the Sandman hotel in Kamloops, which is serving as a wildfire evacuee reception centre, on July 17, 2017.

"It's virtually every logging outfit that has stayed behind ... to help fight the fires," Menning said.

There have been some tough days, with winds whipping up the flames and little progress made in the battle, but conditions were better on Sunday.

"We had a good day yesterday, and today is shaping up OK," Menning said.

Thousands out of homes

More than 40,000 people have fled their homes, and another 20,000 are on evacuation alert.

With news of new evacuation orders and alerts coming in virtually nonstop for the last 10 days, there are signs of fatigue among those trying to help evacuees.

At the Kamloops evacuation reception centre on Sunday afternoon, volunteer Joel Gaudet was feeling worn out after working through the night.

"I've taken a couple of breaks," he said.

"We're still screaming for people to help out here, so I'm not planning on leaving anytime soon."

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