Wildfire evacuees on cots in Cold Lake evacuation centre

Red Cross says situation is intimidating for individuals not used to huge centres

COLD LAKE, Alta. — Some people who had to flee their homes due to a fast-approaching forest fire in northern Saskatchewan say the evacuation centre they are staying at in Alberta is lacking basic amenities.

Jennifer and Mable Isbister, who live in La Ronge, say the past two days haven’t been easy for them or their families.

With no time to pack their things, they and hundreds of others boarded a bus to Prince Albert, Sask., then on to Cold Lake, Alta.

When they reached the recreation centre in Cold Lake, Jennifer was given a fold-up cot with a small wool blanket to sleep on. Others didn’t get blankets, the sisters said, adding there is not enough food to go around either.

“This morning they ran out of stuff again,” Mable said Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a continuing process,” Jennifer added, “Some of us didn’t even have supper last night or breakfast this morning.”

Some elders had to leave home without their medicine, wheelchairs and walkers, and getting to meals has been a challenge, she said.

“I went and borrowed an office chair and helped my grandpa,” Jennifer said, “I put him in there and took him to the kitchen and took him outside for a smoke. So he’s keeping that chair with him. He’s using that.”

As of Tuesday, there were around 680 evacuees were being housed in Cold Lake.

J.P. Taschereau, senior manager of emergency response with the Red Cross, said he is not aware of a food shortage at the evacuation centre in Cold Lake.

He said volunteers are working to help replace vital items that evacuees may have left behind.

“If our volunteers in the shelter become aware of such a situation, they will then refer to public health and then we’ll have a volunteer go and pick up either medication or a wheelchair or for example, baby formula or diapers,” Taschereau said.

The Red Cross is not accepting direct donations, saying the space and manpower required to take them would pull resources away from more urgent needs.

Instead, the group tells people to contact organizations such as the Salvation Army.

“Lots of these evacuees don’t necessarily want to be in the parking lot having a quiet moment, and be challenged by somebody with a garbage bag full of clothes,” said Karri Kempf with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services.

“It’s really intimidating for people. They’re not used to the crowds, they’re not used to the huge centres.”

But Jennifer and Mable Isbister said while many are lacking towels or clothing, such help would be welcome.

“Why should they reject the donations that are being offered to the people that need them?” Jennifer asked.

Meanwhile, in Regina, people collecting donations for wildfire evacuees at a hotel are being told by Social Services to stop and take everything to Salvation Army instead.

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