WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — The City of Williams Lake has ordered its residents to leave, with the threat from surrounding wildfires now too great.
The evacuation order, signed by Mayor Walt Cobb, comes after the entire city was put on alert on July 10.
"The reason we did the evacuation is because there may be no access out of town. If we don't go now, we may not be able to get out," said Cobb.
In addition to Williams Lake, the order includes several surrounding areas, including Fraser River, Polley Lake, Moffat Creek and 150 Mile House.
Evacuees were initially being urged to travel to Kamloops, but the Thompson-Nicola Regional District now says it needs to retain capacity here, so Williams Lake residents will be asked to keep driving to Vernon or Kelowna.
"We have been housing residents from 100 Mile House, and also from other areas in the TNRD. It's important to have space as the fires continue to develop, to make sure we've got capacity to take people from the region," said Communications Officer Kendra Besanger.
Williams Lake has a population of 10,753, according to the 2016 Census.
Those evacuees are to follow Highway 97 south to Highway 24, turn east to Little Fort, then follow Highway 5 south to Kamloops, where they can continue on to the Okanagan.
"Evacuees are going to be given information at the bottom of Highway 24 and 5, the intersection near Little Fort, and then they're going to be sent to the Okanagan," said Besanger.
Those leaving Williams Lake should register with the Canadian Red Cross.
There are 12 muster points within Williams Lake for people who do not have transportation and need to take a bus out of the community.
Those unable to get to the muster point are asked to call Williams Lake RCMP at 250-392-6211.
Mayor Cobb said the evacuation comes due to aggressive activity on the White Lake Fire northwest of the city.
"It jumped the Fraser River at the Rudy Johnson bridge. At this stage of the game, because of the direction it took and the wind, it's not coming up the valley as we suspected, but it could."
Interior Health has confirmed most of Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital is being evacuated as well, though the emergency department will remain open.
Acute care patients are being transferred to Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, while longer term patients are being taken to facilities in Kamloops and Salmon Arm.
Besanger urged all residents to get their information from reliable sources, rather than questionable rumours from social media.
"We just need people to continue to check the TNRD website for official information. It's really important that the sources are authentic sources. Check the TNRD, check DriveBC, check BC Wildfire, and rely on those reliable sources for information - not on hearsay from Facebook."
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