The Saskatchewan Red Cross is coordinating shelter and food for 5,265 people forced to evacuate their homes because of wildfires.
There are three main evacuation centres in the province and the Red Cross has other sites prepared in case they need to expand to accommodate more people. As of Thursday, Regina was hosting 1,259 evacuees; 2,223 were staying in Prince Albert with 1,100 in Saskatoon.
There is a strong sense of family and community outside of Regina’s Evraz Place as older kids and mothers entertain the toddlers while elders and parents visit. A few teenagers tossed a football around in the parking lot.
“It’s just mostly tired, missing home, lonely,” Marla Ballantyne said as she visited with people outside the evacuation centre. She came on a bus from Sturgeon Lake on Tuesday with her son, her father, and her niece who has a baby. They’re staying at the University of Regina, but other family members are staying at Evraz Place.
“We’re all over the city now and it’s hard for us to try and keep in touch with each other,” she commented.
Ballantyne was relieved to get a ride to Evraz Place to visit her family. Even with wildfires threatening their homes, she and the others here are mainly concerned about the people they love.
“Worrying about all the other family members, making sure they’re all okay and the kids aren’t getting sick. That’s what makes us worried,” she said.
Ballantyne says the volunteers with the Red Cross have been great at helping all the evacuees with everything they need. She also commends the work of local band councils and the grand council which is still coordinating things like rides and supplies for their people.
Far from her home on Red Earth Cree Nation, Marlene McKay holds tight to a toddler who is too little to know why they are here in Regina.
“That first night I was very emotional because my great-granddaughter was crying and she made me feel sad,” she said. “I’m still very lonesome for home because I left my husband back home.”
“This is the largest, most-complex evacuation response in Saskatchewan that the Red Cross has responded to,” explained Cindy Fuchs, provincial director of Saskatchewan Red Cross. “This is difficult for our province but we certainly are well prepared.”
The Red Cross is responding on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan. The organization is not seeking donations or extra volunteers specifically for wildfire relief. Cash donations are always welcome year-round and so are volunteers. However, there is a training and screening process for Red Cross volunteers and that takes time.
Along with medical support from health regions and 87 trained volunteers, the Red Cross is also getting help from partner organizations and groups to help boost morale in the shelters. Local entertainers are offering performances for people staying at shelters. There are some organized outings to movie theatres, museums and parks. Several other groups have offered kids programs and activities. SaskTel has also installed televisions for movies. If they are still here this weekend, evacuees in Regina can even sign up to go to Sunday’s Roughrider game.
The Regina Police Service helped to organize sports games while the RCMP Heritage Centre offered an educational program complete with arts and crafts.
Anyone who wants to donate items like clothing, books, toys or games can drop them off with the Salvation Army. Hundreds of evacuees have received vouchers to pick up whatever they need in terms of clothing, blankets or toiletries at the Salvation Army thrift stores. Right now, the biggest need is for summer clothing like shorts and t-shirts. Dallas Ferguson with the Salvation Army in Regina says there is also a big demand for anything that will entertain kids like games, colouring books or craft supplies.