Officials in Abbotsford are overseeing and co-ordinating the Salvation Army’s largest response to a B.C. disaster this decade to feed and console thousands of Interior residents who have been forced out of their homes by wildfires.
On Monday, the Salvation Army activated its emergency operations centre at the Abbotsford Centre of Hope on Gladys Avenue. There, officials are co-ordinating and organizing the province-wide response to the disaster and dispatching staff, volunteers, supplies and trucks to evacuation centres around B.C.
The operations centre, established under the Salvation Army’s agreement with Emergency Management BC, provides more resources and assistance to John McEwan, the incident commander for the Sally Ann’s disaster services.
McEwan usually organizes the response to more-localized operations from his Centre of Hope office. But the operations centre – which sees two larger rooms at the centre re-purposed and dedicated to managing the response – gives him a larger array of tools to co-ordinate activities. And it’s needed.
The wildfire situation has affected an area greater than many European countries, forced 14,000 people from their homes and closed several major B.C. highways.
Across the province, the Salvation Army has dispatched four community response vehicles that can serve up to 300 meals per hour at evacuation centres. On Tuesday, another vehicle was prepped and ready to be dispatched from Abbotsford.
The last time such a response was undertaken was in 2003, when the organization responded to help those affected by fires in Kelowna, Barriere and elsewhere.
“We rolled seven trucks that time and we served 50,000 meals over six weeks,” McEwan said. “I would guess we will come close, if not eclipse that, this time.”
With Williams Lake under evacuation alert as of Tuesday, he and his team have to prepare for another large movement of people at a moment’s notice.
Whether in Prince George, Kamloops or elsewhere, Salvation Army personnel and volunteers will be serving food, greeting people at evacuation centres and providing emotional and spiritual support.
The latter group will soon include Capt. Mark Dunstan. Dunstan, who serves as the officer and pastor responsible for Abbotsford and Mission with his wife, will soon be flying up to Prince George with five others.
There, they will look to provide some hope to those affected by the fire.
Dunstan will pray with those who feel so inclined, but also just offer his ear to those who want someone to talk to.
“I’ll listen to their stories and if they need something, I’ll try to provide that for them, whether it’s something physical that they need, food or water, or just a listening ear.”