The evacuation centre at the Canada Games Centre in Clayton Park has become a central spot where people displaced by the wildfires can find support and ask questions.

The main corridor of the recreation centre is lined with tables from various organizations, including St. John’s Ambulance, Insurance Bureau of Canada, and the Disaster Animal Rescue Team of Nova Scotia. Nurse practitioners and other staff from Public Health are also at the centre providing primary health care and mental health support. A social worker with the IWK is on site as well. The centre opened on Sunday night and is now operating 24 hours.

Matt Cottingham is with the Red Cross, which is running the evacuation centre. On Wednesday morning, Cottingham said 109 evacuees stayed at the centre the previous night.

“This is the hot spot for all the services for anyone affected by evacuation orders,” Cottingham said. “They can come here for shelter, they can come here for food if they’re here for shelter. There are snacks for people who are coming in to charge phones or a safe place to hang out.”

A white van with blue and green designs on it sits in a parking lot outside of white brick building.
The Public Health Mobile Unit outside the Canada Games Centre in Clayton Park. Credit: Suzanne Rent

How the community can donate

Cottingham said there’s also been “overwhelming” support from the community the past three days.

“It’s been such a highlight to see how the region and community have come together to support each other,” Cottingham said. “People are definitely hurting, but there’s also been an outpouring of compassion and understanding.”

Cottingham said a lot of people want to help and the best way to do that is by going to non-profit organizations such as the United Way, Red Cross, and Salvation Army, which are all collecting funds to support people displaced by the fires.

“Donating money to those lines is the easiest way for us to stay flexible and meet the demands as they rise because materials are hard to give out when someone might not need that right now. Once it’s in our possession, we have to keep it with us. We have very limited storage space. Food can spoil. With money, we can stay flexible.”

‘I can’t say enough good about them’

Jean Barber has been at the evacuation centre since Sunday at 10pm when she left her home in Voyageur Lakes in Hammonds Plains. She said she had “no complaints” about the time she’s spent at the centre.

“The Red Cross, Salvation Army, I can’t say enough good about them,” Barber said. “They’re fantastic. The people who look after the animals — I have a little dog — they’re fantastic as well. Everybody has been nothing but kind and helpful.”

An older white woman with short blonde hair and wearing a grey jacket over a grey t-shirt sits at a table holding her smartphone that has a photo of her red fluffy Pomeranian.
Jean Barber is one of the residents evacuated from her home and now staying at the evacuation centre at the Canada Games Centre in Clayton Park. Her dog, Trudy, is also at the centre. Credit: Suzanne Rent

Barber, who’s 80, said she saw mostly smoke in her neighbourhood and the first thing she packed up was her dog, a Pomeranian named Trudy. She said she’s been spending her time at the centre by chatting with other folks who evacuated as well. Barber said she plans on staying at the evacuation centre until she can go home.

“I have lots of places to go to,” Barber said. “But I am okay. I am enjoying this, seeing how people help other people. It’s such a wonderful feeling. People are just giving and wonderful.”

Barber said the only issue is she’s not getting much information about when she can go back home, although she said she knows the situation changes each day.

Questions about insurance are ‘hypotheticals’

Amanda Dean is with the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), which also has a table set up at the centre. Dean said they had about 25 people visit on Tuesday and a “handful” on Wednesday. 

Dean said most of the questions people are asking now are “hypotheticals.”

“Some people do know their house is still standing,” Dean said. “A lot of people still don’t know and there will be a lot of questions for a few days until it’s no longer an active event.”

Dean said people really only need to provide their name right now to learn more.

“We know people fled and didn’t have much time. In many cases we’ve heard of, there were knocks on doors telling people to evacuate. Other people had 30 minutes. So, if they know the name of their broker, if they know the name of their insurer, wonderful. We can connect them. We can make sure they are connected with the right people to start their claim, if they are ready to do so. If they have one or not the other, we can help people connect those dots.”

Dean said some residents have asked about circumstances in which they wouldn’t be covered for damage caused by wildfires.

“Home insurance, tenant insurance, condo unit insurance, you will be covered for fire damage,” Dean said. “The only time you won’t be covered for fire damage is if you set the fire yourself or someone who lives within your home set the fire. That’s one of the big myths.”

Dean said people should keep receipts for any expenses they are incurring right now, and get those to their insurer as soon as possible.

“Anything in addition to what you’d be paying for right now. If you were home, you would be paying for food, whether that’s groceries or what have you,” Dean said. “Hotel bills, rental bills, laundromat bills, things like that. Keep all of those receipts.” 

“There’s a huge element of shock. Insurers understand that. There’s no deadline from an insurance perspective. The only deadline is if you want to get your money sooner.”

Dean said they expect to be at the Canada Games Centre for the next few days and into next week from 9am to 5pm.

‘The animals are in surprisingly good shape’

Roger Joyce is with the Disaster Animal Rescue Team of Nova Scotia, which works with the Red Cross and takes in people’s pets. On Wednesday, they had four dogs at the centre and many pets have gone with their owners. But Joyce said it’s been a busy few days, and on Tuesday night, 11 dogs and four cats were brought in by owners. 

“People were lining up at the door to get in,” Joyce said. “The animals are in surprisingly good shape. They are all doing really good.”

Joyce said they’ve had a total of 15 dogs and about five cats since Sunday night when the evacuation centre was set up. The animals are being kept in separate rooms throughout the centre and you can hear the dogs barking. Some of the owners have since found hotels or other accommodations that allow pets.

Joyce said they do need more volunteers right now. 

“This is why we’re always looking for volunteers, especially right now, because we don’t have that many right now,” Joyce said.

Click here to visit our Nova Scotia wildfires resource page.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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