Fort St. James Volunteer Fire Department has put the call out for stuffed animals that could help children in times of crisis.
Dozens of cuddly, soft toys were handed out by local fire chief Ryan McVey and a community member to young evacuees as their parents registered at the Reception Centre in Fort St. James Secondary School on Tuesday, July 13, following an evacuation order for the Camsell Lake fire.
McVey said Fort St. James has not been alone in giving away stuffed animals as other communities, fire departments, and agencies such as BC Ambulance and RCMP have also handed them out.
“When you have a situation like this, whether it’s a wildfire or a house fire, anything that causes extra stress on a child a lot of times they’re left without any of their normal comforts, and something like a stuffed animal gives them something they can hold onto,” he said.
“It takes a little bit of the stress away, and a lot of times, if a child is no longer stressed or less stressed, it takes some of the pressure off the parents. So that’s one less thing they have to worry about.”
Emergency Support Services was activated for the Yekooche First Nation and others when the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, Yekooche and BC Parks issued an evacuation order.
Late that evening, McVey and other firefighters headed down to the Secondary School to help set up the reception centre with staff from School District 91 and Northern Health, amongst other volunteers. Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation had also opened their kitchen at Kwah Hall, where sack lunches were packed and more than 150 were donated.
“I set the stuffies up with one of the members of the community that was already there, and we gave them to the kids as they walked in the door,” McVey said.
It wasn’t until around 3 a.m. or shortly after he left after presenting up to 30 stuffed animals.
The department is looking for more toys to have handy for children in traumatic situations and will be accepting any new or near new sanitized stuffed animals.
As of Tuesday, July 20, the 300-hectare Camsell Lake fire remains classified by BC Wildfire Service as being held. As a result, the evacuation order was rescinded and replaced with an evacuation alert on Saturday, July 17.
McVey said he hopes recent rains do not give people a false sense of security as conditions remain dry across the province.
“I think everybody should be concerned during fire season, and be mindful of what they’re doing in the bush— if they’re out working or just having a day of recreation, but at the same time we can’t control mother nature and a lot of these fires throughout B.C. have been started by lightning,” he said.
“So while we can mitigate some of the risks to our community by our activities, there’s always that chance that mother nature is going to have a different idea and a different plan, and all we can do is be prepared.”