Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb (Black Press)

Williams Lake evacuation went well, mayor says

Highway 97 north reopening helped clear the city

The evacuation of Williams lake Saturday night went smoothly, despite hours-long traffic backups as people headed south, Mayor Walt Cobb says.

“I’m really pleased with the amount of patience and the good thoughts people had,” Cobb told Black Press in an interview Sunday morning. “Apparently we got everybody to where they needed to go, safe and sound with no incidents along the way.

“The big lineups were gone by midnight last night. So it went extremely well.”

The evacuation order was triggered Saturday, not by a direct threat to the community but fire closing in on Highway 97 north to Prince George, where the original evacuation plan was to send residents. Cobb said the northern route was reopened Saturday night.

“The fire jumped the road and it was on both sides of the road so we couldn’t go north, so we figured we’d better evacuate before we had no access to get out,” Cobb said. “We were told in one of our conference sessions that there was a two-hour window of opportunity to get people north, so we were directing traffic north, and then I understand it stayed open most of the night.”

The fires closest to Williams Lake remain more than a kilometre away and did not come any closer overnight. The situation to the west of the community on Highway 20 is more urgent, with Alexis Creek and Tl’entinqox t-in First Nation (Anaham) also under evacuation order.

“They all had to come through Williams Lake, because we’re the hub here, and Alexis Creek and all those people had to come through Williams Lake and that’s what caused a big part of the traffic problem,” Cobb said.“It took over eight hours to get from Williams Lake to Kamloops, and that’s normally no more than a three-hour trip.”

Elders and children have been evacuated from Anaham, with other residents staying to fight the fires.

Williams Lake isn’t completely empty.

“I have seen a couple of vehicles drive around,” Cobb said. “Tim Hortons is open today, which is good because we have 150 RCMP in town, so you’ve got to keep them supplied.”

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