With rising temperatures, milder winters, declining snowpack, droughts, and increasing incidence of lightning strikes, climate change is undeniably fuelling intensifying fire seasons in Western Canada. In the presence of dangerous Wildland urban interface (WUI) fires, homeowners are often forced to evacuate and temporarily relocate until they can return to their communities. For Kamloops, a centrally-located host city for wildfire evacuees, intensifying fire seasons lead to more evacuations, which in turn potentially strains Kamloops’ resources as they must accommodate for a much larger population for an extended period of time. Having historically hosted a large number of evacuees during the wildfire season of 2003 and 2009, Kamloops was no stranger to stretching resources and putting systems to the test to temporarily accommodate larger populations. However, the destruction caused by the 2017 and 2018 fire season in British Columbia was unprecedented: 65,000 people had to evacuate their homes.
As increasing temperatures, mild winters, and a lack of precipitation fueled ever-intensifying fire seasons in British Columbia, the City of Kamloops, a historical host community for evacuations from surrounding regions, faced increasing pressure to host an unprecedented number of evacuees in the 2017 fire season. Within the City, numerous reception centres, resiliency centres, and recovery centres were set up to support a wide spectrum of needs for the evacuees. Coordination between private sector partners, non-profits, government agencies, local First Nations, and an Emergency Support Services (ESS) team of over 60 trained volunteers enabled Kamloops to provide shelter, health care, and a spectrum of social services for an unprecedented number of evacuees. Kamloops hosted approximately 10,000 evacuees in 2017, representing nearly a 10% increase in the population. The City received great praise for their preparedness in accommodating an unprecedented influx of evacuees.