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Holding the family together in a disaster

By Joanne Abshire

BC fires evacuee Marlene talks with a Red Cross workerWilliams Lake grandmother Marlene Johnnie is the glue holding her family together during the B.C. wildfire crisis.
“I was really scared to begin with, but being the head of the family I had to calm down to make sure that everyone was leaving,” said Marlene Johnnie.
The Johnnie were among the 38,000 people forced to leave their home due to a fast growing wildfire in BC’s Cariboo region.  The family were at home in Williams Lake when the evacuation order was issued. 

“We were just sitting down for supper and all of a sudden the order came in,” Johnnie said.
“I turned on the TV and we were ordered to ‘leave now.’  I threw everything in the car that I could think of, threw what food we could get and food for the dogs.”

Although time was limited, she ran over to each family member’s house hoping to get everyone out.

“Some of us came in two vehicles and the rest of the family had to come on the bus.  So the whole time I was worried, ‘Did everyone come? Is anyone behind? Is everyone on the bus?  Are they coming?’”

Wildfires evacuees Marlene, her son, and grandchild outside the Kamloops evacuation centreAbout a dozen family members arrived safely at evacuation centre in Kamloops including Johnnie’s 18-month-old grandson Masin Cahoose and his father Daniel.  Masin’s mom remains in Prince George; the family separated by the fire. 

Cahoose said he is grateful for the support of his extended family, especially his mother.  The family is sharing parenting duties like changing diapers, feeding, playing, and watching over Masin. 

“If I was by myself in this situation there would be no way for me to do it,” he said.

Johnnie turned a shaded area of grass beside her parked car at the evacuation centre in Kamloops into a hub for the whole family including brothers and cousins.  It was a place for everyone to be together during this difficult time.

“This is where we meet.  This is our home right now,” Johnnie said.

“I’ve never lived through this my whole life.  It’s scary, sad, and takes a lot.”

Tears filled her eyes as she spoke, then she paused. 

“But now, everyone is here safe.” 
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