The Dikur family have had to rely on scraps of information from Facebook, neighbours and friends and the news to piece together the situation in Williams Lake, to know whether their home is still standing.
The uncertainty and stress of not knowing has been extremely difficult for the family, something Carol Anne Dikur says has been made bearable by the kindness and generosity of Kitimat businesses and residents, the town being home for the family since arriving on July 4.
Carol Anne and her children, Jaxson and Avery, came to Kitimat initially to just visit her husband, who has been working for WorksafeBC on contract.
However, when the evacuation alert was issued on Friday, July 7, the realization set in for the family that the situation was deteriorating in Williams Lake and that they wouldn’t be returning, as they had planned, on July 17.
“The alert turned to an evacuation order on Saturday, July 15,” said Carol Anne, which is when she realized she and her family would be in Kitimat for a while.
“We heard that the fire was approaching our side of the lake, and with every day that passed we didn’t know whether the house was still standing.”
Their home is situated five minutes outside the Williams Lake boundary, on the outskirts, close to a densely forested area.
“We heard that the fire had surrounded Williams Lake and that it had come really close to the house,” said Carol Anne.
Her parents, Ken and Anna May McCarvill, who also live in Williams Lake, joined the thousands of the town’s residents who were forced to flee the town.
They packed up their motorhome, drove straight to Carol Anne’s home and grabbed what they could, including photographs, passports and computer hard drives, before driving north to Prince George. Her parents stayed in their motorhome in Prince George until Carol Anne informed them of MStar Hotel’s offer of free accommodation for evacuees driven out of their homes by the wild fires.
They left their motorhome in Prince George, took a train and arrived in Terrace last Monday, where they were met by the family and brought to Kitimat.
Since the evacuation, Carol Anne has been relying on scraps of information about the state of the house, from Facebook, friends who decided to stay, even from an RCMP officer who lives two houses down.
The family hadn’t prepared for a long stay, and to keep the family’s minds off the situation, Carol Anne reached out to the community on Facebook, explaining their situation and asking what there was to do for the family in Kitimat.
What resulted from that initial query was a flood of advice and offers of assistance and moral support from Kitimat residents, who took it upon themselves to welcome the family as only Kitimat can.
“There were people giving us advice, recommendations, simple things, but it all made us feel so at ease,” said Carol Anne.
The staff from Kitimat visitor’s centre immediately stepped in, taking the family under their wings.
“They looked after us, arranged a trip to the fish hatchery, even called the library to set it up so we could take out books,” said Carol Anne.
“It was little things like that which made the world of difference.”
A trip down to the Wakita’s fishing supplies store resulted in Jaxson receiving a brand new rod for free, as well as the offer of another loan rod, and a lot of fishing supplies. Jaxson put it all to good use, landing a fish the same day.
A visit to the hairdresser for a haircut for Avery resulted in a no charge – the salon owner refused to take money for the cut.
A trip to the What’s In Store thrift shop ended similarly – after filling up three baskets with goodies, Carol Anne approached the till to pay.
“The store’s owner Sarah Moretti said to me I needn’t even unpack the baskets on the counter, that I didn’t have to pay,” said Carol Anne.
“When I tried to protest, she said to me ‘I’m the boss, I get to bless people when I can’.”
She said she and her family have encountered that generosity wherever they have gone in Kitimat.
“It’s really amazing to see people’s generosity – they don’t even question, they just give.”
The community also came forward to help keep the family occupied. Carol Anne and her family wanted to hike, but were nervous because of the reports of bears around.
“A lady took it upon herself to show us around town. Kitimat is really a beautiful place,” said Carol Anne.
She was also amazed to see how many other Williams Lake families ended up in Kitimat, also taking MStar Hotel up on their generous offer.
She met up with many of them at an Emergency Social Services meeting set up at Riverlodge, where evacuees came to meet, and arrange for assistance.
“I was shocked to see how many people were there from Williams Lake, but I was also amazed with how many volunteers there were, helping the evacuees with forms and vouchers,” said Carol Anne.
On the Thursday after interviewing the Dikurs the evacuation order was downgraded to an alert, clearing the way for thousands of residents to return to the town.
Carol Anne said on the day of the interview their family and thousands of others’ return to Williams Lake was “a total unknown”.
“We were told by people still in Williams Lake to be prepared for when we come home, that the town won’t be the same as when we left it,” said Carol Anne. “We have been mentally preparing ourselves for that day.”
She said the one lesson she will take away from the experience in Kitimat is how the situation, although far from Kitimat, had brought people together to help strangers, putting their lives on hold to help.
“This disaster will make our community stronger – it is amazing how devastation can bring people together.”