Gustafsen fire evacuees settling in in Keremeos

Evacuees from the Gustafsen (100 Mile House) fire have taken refuge at the Elks rodeo grounds.

The Gustafsen wildfire was about a kilometer-and-a-half away from their home when Shawn Taylor pulled out of his driveway in 103 Mile House hauling a fifth-wheel trailer.

“It was smoky,” Taylor said. “The roads were busy but if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen and at least we had time to prepare and we have trailers so we had a bunch of our stuff ready.”

Taylor, his wife and daughter along with his in-laws and brother-in-law, who were evacuated because of the same fire from their home in 108-Mile, arrived at the Elks Rodeo Grounds Wednesday.

The Keremeos Elks have opened up the rodeo grounds for free camping for anyone affected by fire evacuations in the province.

Taylor said his mother-in-law and his 11-year-old daughter Crystalynn were in the Keremeos area when the fire broke out west of 100 Mile House on July 6.

“We thought we might as well make our way down here if the roads were open because we knew we would be safe here,” father-in-law Tom Lane said.

Lane a retired wildfires worker said he was finding it difficult sitting on the sidelines as crews work to put out the out-of-control fires raging around the province.

The families have received word that their homes at this point are safe, but expect it might be a few weeks before they are able to return.

As of Thursday, July 13 Gustafsen fire is about 5,000 hectares in size and about 15 per cent contained. Currently there are 134 firefighters, 37 pieces of heavy equipment and 15 helicopters fighting the blaze.

There ordeal started about a week ago when they received the alert to evacuate in the evening of the day the fire broke out. The alert was upgraded to a full evacuation for 108 Mile House and 103 Mile House by 10 a.m. the next morning.

During that time Taylor readied the trailer and grabbed some of his child’s artwork, the pets and some vital paperwork in case the house burned down.

At the time the evacuation order came in Lane was at the hospital in Kamloops with his son who was undergoing surgery on two broken wrists.

“I was telling them that they needed to hurry up and we needed to go we needed to get back to 108 Mile House to get our things because we were being evacuated. Finally they released him and we managed to get back to the house before the roads were closed. Shawn was there and had the trailer ready to go and we just hooked on and went,” Lane said.

Lane said the only thing that was really important was paperwork and documents in his fire proof safe and that was quickly thrown in the trailer when they arrived home.

“I just grabbed the fire proof safe and we had to leave. I didn’t worry about the mementos in the house they’re just things. The important thing is that we all got out and are safe,” Lane said.

The family said although roads were busy everyone was respectful and they were able to get to Interlakes which is on Highway 24 east of where the fire is blazing.

They first stopped to register as evacuees at the 100 Mile House evacuation center but found there wasn’t proper parking available for their trailer so they went on to Interlakes.

“They wanted to send us all to Prince George but I figured that was going to be a two days drive by how fast we were moving so we went to Interlakes and waited trying to route a way down here. Some of the roads were closed so we had to wait till we could get through,” Lane said.

The families arrived at the rodeo grounds Wednesday night.

“It’s really great. It has everything we need water, showers, washroom. We really appreciate it,” Taylor said.

Mac Watson, president of the Elks said the group was happy to help any of the evacuees of the fires.

Watson said there’s room for about 150 units in the rodeo grounds and there are corrals and the whole rodeo arena can be used if need be for livestock or horses.

“We’re pretty well setup to help out like this. We have some water spigots so those that want to can attach to water and a sani-dump on site. There’s also showers and washrooms here,” he said. “We just want to help out anyway we can. I know places are filling up with evacuees and they’re going to be looking for other places and we’re certainly happy to help.”

Watson said he’s contacted emergency services in the areas of the fires including Princeton to inform them there is a free place to camp if they need it in Keremeos.

“I’ve heard the village office has gotten some inquiries so there probably will be more coming. I hope the businesses will band together to help out the evacuees in the ways they can,” he said.

Any evacuee that needs a place to stay can contact Watson by calling 250-499-9843.

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