As hotels and motels fill up in Kamloops and wildfire evacuees are diverted to other communities, cots have been set up in the gymnasium at NorKam secondary in preparation of housing those fleeing the flames.
Kamloops-Thompson school district facilities director Art McDonald said the gymnasium at the North Kamloops school — which is located near to the McArthur Island emergency social services reception centre, where evacuees register and obtain critical information — is set up, though evacuees are not yet staying there.
“I think at this point, it’s more just proactive on their part, just to make sure they have something in case there’s more issues out there,” McDonald said.
Thompson-Nicola Regional District CAO Scott Hildebrand said hotels are at or near capacity in Kamloops. People under evacuation orders at this stage are being told to travel to Salmon Arm, where a reception centre has been established, should they be evacuated, or try to stay with friends or family.
Mundi Hotel Group director of sales Angela Tasker said the Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre in Aberdeen is full, with about 50 per cent of its rooms (about 100 out of 200 rooms) right now occupied by wildfire evacuees. The hotel is also accommodating crews from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
“It’s been a quick turnaround,” Tasker said, noting the hotel had come out of a slow time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tasker said government rates are set up each year with Emergency Management BC in preparation of potential evacuation situations.
Hotel owner Ron Mundi estimated a minimum of two people stay per room, meaning about a couple of hundred wildfire evacuees are estimated to be staying at the Coast Kamloops. Hotel staff are working to make people feel better during the crisis situation, including trying to accommodate pets. Some people have had to stay longer than initially anticipated.
“Our team is a wonderful team,” Mundi said, noting his employees are more like family than a corporate entity. “We are trying our best and, also, our team understands the situation, where these people come from.”
City of Kamloops CAO David Trawin said that in addition to hotels, some evacuees are staying at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Powwow Grounds. Asked if the city is planning to open any of its facilities, he said the city takes direction from the TNRD.
“We have the ability, and we’re looking at it, to potentially hold Sandman Centre, like we did in 2017, as space,” he said. “We can’t use the TCC [Tournament Capital Centre on the campus of Thompson Rivers University] because, obviously, the vaccination centre is up there and that’s very busy.”
The TCC was being used as one of two ongoing COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Kamloops. The other was the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, which is now being used as an emergency social services reception centre.
Trawin said the city also needs to ensure any space used has air conditioning.
He said the regional district co-ordinates with the province to determine where people who are from outside the city go upon evacuation. He said that while the city is willing to lend a hand to outside communities, it is also important to ensure facilities are available to Kamloops residents, should local neighbourhoods be evacuated.
“For example, when we evacuated Juniper, we potentially had the Sandman Centre open, where people could go for the night,” Trawin said.
One idea that has yet to be explored is billeting. It was suggested to KTW by Mike Miltimore of Lee’s Music. Miltimore has been volunteering his time with evacuees camping at Tk'emlúps and noted a billeting program could help those who need more than a tent and the basics that come with such a temporary situation. While people have used social media to offer rooms in their homes to evacuees, there is no organized billeting effort of which KTW is aware.