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Evacuee benefits extended to July 20

<p>Evacuees lined up outside the Sandman Centre in Kamloops. Kimberly Vance-Lundsbye photo.</p> -

Evacuees lined up outside the Sandman Centre in Kamloops. Kimberly Vance-Lundsbye photo.

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By Melissa Smalley

BC wildfire evacuees who are relying on benefits from Evacuation Social Services (ESS) will see that support extended until at least July 20, according to ESS director Liz Jones.

Jones says that benefits for evacuees will be extended until at least Thursday, however, those displaced from their homes will need to re-register at one of the many evacuation centres around the province. Locally, a registration spot has been set up at the Lone Butte community hall for South Cariboo evacuees.

"Most people have left the area, but there are still a lot of people around," Jones says. "If they are billeting, we can extend their billeting time, and there are items to pick up for free at the Lone Butte and Lac La Hache community halls."

Benefits available to wildfire evacuees – the number of which is estimated to be 37,000 across the province following yesterday's evacuation order in Williams Lake – include accommodation, food and clothing vouchers.

"If they can't afford to put themselves up somewhere or they don't have anyone in the area they can stay with, they will be offered group lodging or billeting," Jones says, noting most hotels are full. "We don't ever give out cash, but we do have some food vouchers, and if you left in a hurry and don't have clothes, you can get a clothing voucher as well."

Jones confirms that residents who have left their homes voluntarily are not eligible for benefits unless they have a proven medical reason to have evacuated without an order to do so.

She also encourages everyone who has been placed under evacuation order to register with the Red Cross if they haven't done so already; registration can be done by phone at 1-800-863-6582 or online at www.epactnetwork.com/en/signup/redcross

While Jones notes that locally there has been a certain amount of frustration from evacuees, who are finding it challenging to access information, she assures the community the ESS staff are doing the best they can given the circumstances.

"The ESS team is doing the best they can with the people we have. We are doing our best, but with the roadblocks, it has been a bit challenging," Jones says. "We haven't forgotten anybody, we are trying our best to get to everyone."

The Kamloops evacuation centre – located at the Sandman Centre – will be looking for experienced volunteers to deal with the influx of displaced Williams Lake residents this weekend. A volunteer area is set up where those wanting to help can be put to work, Jones says.

Sunday morning, hundreds of evacuees – many of them seniors – could be seen lined up outside of the Sandman Centre, while hundreds of pets were also outside the arena.

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