A Red Cross worker speaks to an evacuee in Kamloops. Image credit: Greg Sabatino

A Red Cross worker speaks to an evacuee in Kamloops. Image credit: Greg Sabatino

UNDER EVACUATION: The health impacts on evacuees

Evacuees are stressed and emotional while also resilient and strong

One in a ten-part series showcasing the volunteerism, community and resilience surrounding those evacuated due to the wildfires engulfing parts of the B.C. Interior.


While the majority of British Columbia views the impact and destruction of the wildfires from a distance, tens of thousands of B.C. residents are experiencing it first hand.

From last-minute evacuations to candling trees, roaring flames and property lost, the physical and mental impact of this year wildfire season has just begun.

As the province heads into the third week of what is expected to be a long and destructive wildfire season, a UBC professor shared his thoughts on the psychological impact of wildfires.

“Most people cope well with losses, although they may experience some degree of distress such as anxiety, depression or sleep disturbance,” explained Dr. Steven Taylor, a professor of psychiatry who specializes in anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The impact varies according to a range of complex factors including the nature of the loss, the degree of impact and disruption on their lives, the aftermath, the person’s age and their level of psychological adjustment. Grieving the loss of one’s cherished possessions is a natural psychological reaction, although most people are able to move on with their lives.”

Related: Firefighters in Williams Lake threatened with gun

The impact is not felt alone by those losing their homes, it is also felt by the first responders trying to get the upper hand on these destructive blazes.

“Firefighters, just like police officers and military personnel, are at greater risk of developing PTSD, compared to the general population,” said Taylor. “This is mainly because if you work in a dangerous profession then your odds are increased of being exposed to traumatic events. Fatigue and emotional burnout are also important concerns, especially for those who have been working long, dangerous shifts fighting forest fires.

“It is important for firefighters to be mindful of their mental health; if they are experiencing significant anxiety, depression, irritability or anger, then they may need to take some time to attend to their mental health.”

Related: Riske Creek ranchers go it alone in fight against dangerous wildfire

Similar advice to that he shared for those directly impacted by fires. Taylor said evacuees should seek further mental-health assistance if they do not begin to feel better within a few weeks.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a possibility for people who perceived that their lives, or the lives of loved ones, were in acute danger. However, most people are resilient to stress and do not develop PTSD,” added Taylor.

“Substance abuse and marital or family conflict are also potential consequences of a serious stressor such as a major forest fire, especially in people who have preexisting issues.”

The professor’s points are palpable when you visit evacuation centres around the province. Evacuees have shared a range of emotions with the media, they are stressed and emotional while also resilient and strong.

Related: Evacuees sleeping in cars and tents

With that in the mind, the province has worked with local health authorities and several other organizations to bring some relief and support to evacuees.

“Evacuees and workers are dealing with high levels of stress and mental health concerns. Provincial Health Services Authority has been working with affected health authorities to support their response to the fires. This includes operating the Disaster Psychosocial Program, which has deployed volunteers to Kamloops and Prince George to assist evacuees in those centres,” explains Kate Mukasa with the B.C. Government.

“The affected health authorities also have staff at the reception centres to triage and provide assistance to evacuees – this includes mental health care.”

Organizations like St. Johns Ambulance are also working on lifting the spirits of evacuees by getting their therapy dogs on the job and by their side.

“This is the first time we have been involved in an emergency situation,” said Jillian Zielinski, dog handler of therapy dog Luna. “Normally we visit mental-health facilities or the hospital or seniors homes, so this is the first time we are able help out like this.”

Related: Dogs and cats get love from volunteers in Kamloops

Zielinski said the response and feedback was really great from evacuees who enjoyed a wagging tail and a head to scratch.

“The dogs act as emotional support dogs. They can help make you calmer, there have been studies done about how having animals around you can make you feel safe and comfortable in their presence,” explained Zielinski.

“It can get your mind off of things, you can instead focus on a smooshy face like hers.”

Related: Livestock safe, well cared for by volunteers

Community Resilience Centres have also been set up by local authorities to provide information and programs of support for wildfire evacuees.

These centres include a variety of government and non-governmental resources to support evacuees, including access to important services and programs through Service Canada, insurance advice from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and more.

The Thompson Nicola Regional District Kamloops Resilience Centre is located at 1550 Island Park Way.

In addition to the services mentioned above, the government added that Red Cross is available to provide assistance and mental health supports to evacuees and first responders. Working closely with BC Children’s Hospital, the Kelty Youth in Residence is available to provide support, navigation of services and resources for kids and youth across BC.

Other crisis support for children or youth who may be experiencing PTSD or other crises is also available here:

  • 310-6789 (24/7, confidential support)
  • Toll free – Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast: 1-866-661-3311
  • TTY: 1-866-872-0113

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov - AFP)
Interior Health reports 66 new COVID-19 infections

570 cases are active; 18 in hospital

The Trail Smoke Eaters are practicing preparation and patience for whenever the provincial health authority gives them and the BCHL the green light to play hockey. Photo: Jim Bailey.
Trail Smoke Eaters ready and willing to play, when able

Trail Smoke Eaters staff are keeping players engaged and committed as suspension of play continues

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
Boundary Mountie and suspect airlifted from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Southern Interior Land Trust ensured that bighorn sheep and other wildlife will have an extra 86 acres of land for wildlife conservation, after purchasing a large tract of grassland near Grand Forks. Photo: SILT
Grand Forks grasslands purchased for wildlife conservation

Southern Interior Land Trust buys 86 acres of prime grazing land for California bighorn

Serge Pasquali delivers a stone at Trail Retirees Curling. Photo: submitted.
Trail Retiree Curling: Team Pasquali holds off Noble

Trail Retiree Curling Club started up its second session last week

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read