Residents come together after raging forest fires hit B.C. town

This is a developing story. Find more on the community’s reaction to the forest fires on its Facebook page.

Abbotsford and British Columbia were slammed by the raging forest fires on the weekend, bringing the community’s acceptance of disaster to a new peak.

On Sunday, the day the civil defence team declared the area a state of emergency, hundreds of locals from all walks of life attended a coffee and bake sale, arts and crafts fair, and a fundraiser for the evacuation shelter, at city hall. Many listened to a local radio station broadcasting from their local school.

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“We need to be here, we need to be active and we need to connect,” said Josie James, a radio host at 1500 CHED. “As a community, we need to come together, because there’s not much you can do in an emergency.”

“It’s like we have a club that we belong to,” said Jessica Hammock, who listened to and danced to a different playlist than the people she was trying to sell coffee to. “Everyone’s here, we all live in this town, and we have to be here for each other.”

About 2,000 people spent the night at evacuation centres, according to the City of Abbotsford.

People at city hall had to worry about food, diapers, cigarettes and childcare for the kids. But “we have to create that safety net, so that the families who are affected don’t fall off that edge,” said Ms. Hammock. “They need somewhere they can go where their kids can still learn.”

Along with the micro plans and foot care, many local businesses were going out of their way to reach out and help their neighbours, as well as stop disaster from erupting in their city.

“This is all about what we do,” said Jerriann Williams, the entrepreneur who organized the coffee and bake sale. “We need to support each other.”

“It feels good, it feels wonderful,” said Cathy O’Callaghan, a 35-year-old who was selling coffee to people at the end of the line at the local coffee shop. “I’m happy it’s a community effort.”

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Ms. O’Callaghan was glad that many of the locals who drove up to the west coast decided to support the city in a crisis.

“The fact that you’re looking at each other instead of thinking of the fire, that you’re focused on your neighbour instead of the fire, it’s wonderful.”

After seeing how the city had come together, RCMP Constable Ian MacDonald said that in the five days since the wildfire warning was issued, Abbotsford has shown a lot of resilience.

“The people here showed you they have the ability to move quickly,” he said. “People who hadn’t realized how nice and encouraging people could be – that has been interesting to watch.”

Ms. Williams said even though it’s easy to take each day as a struggle and not stress out over situations that are out of their control, she wished that locals could have done something different last week.

“I wish I could have got everybody together and said, ‘We need to do a single day in Abbotsford to celebrate together.”

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Instead, on Sunday people enjoyed “a really nice treat.”

“I’m happy for those people. I wish I’d done something in our community,” Ms. Williams said. “There’s the escape from something that we do have power over.”

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