Cloverdale Arena Provides Critical Role for B.C. Wildfire Evacuees

The KSA is currently planning a fundraiser for wildfire relief as well
Ashley Hyshka, Community Reporter

The Cloverdale Arena has been refitted as a wildfire reception center, while the Salvation Army is stationed outside, prepared to handle incoming evacuees. (Ashley Hyshka)

The smoke that has lately shrouded our city is a stark reminder that, just hundreds of miles away from Greater Vancouver, the province is burning.

City of Surrey Deputy Chief Mark Griffioen oversees emergency planning, community engagement, and operations. He currently heads Surrey’s relief efforts with respect to the evacuees from the fires locating to Cloverdale Arena.

The wheels were set in motion to help out more when the owner of the Cloverdale fairgrounds opened RV spaces on the grounds for incoming evacuees. When Surrey decided to actively support evacuees, the decision was made to house them at the Cloverdale Recreation Centre due to its proximity to the fairgrounds. After obtaining official support from the B.C. government, they choose a facility that would have “minimal impacts on Surrey residents” for evacuees to stay in: The Cloverdale Arena.

“The obvious choice was an arena that had no ice in it in the middle of the summer,” says Griffioen.

The Cloverdale Arena has been turned into a safe haven for the approximately 3,538 people who’ve walked through their doors since opening in mid-July.

The arena is set up with 108 cots and the Salvation Army is stationed outside to provide people with food and drinks. There is a play area for children and services for pets on site as well. Evacuees register first with the city and then with the Red Cross to receive financial assistance.

To date, nobody has slept overnight in the cots—all evacuees have promptly been taken in by someone else.

Officials are constantly trying to remain “at least one step ahead” of the wildfires. They hold daily meetings, observe five-day weather forecasts, and keep an eye on the situation in the B.C. Interior to determine if they need to increase staffing.

Griffioen says these contingency plans are written down, prepared, and rehearsed so that there are no surprises when a disaster strikes.

“We’re always trying to prepare and accept events as they unfold,” he says. “We provide the support for people that they require.”

This preparedness proved critical when the cities of Clinton and Williams Lake were evacuated. Because the contingency plans were in place, the Cloverdale Arena was able to handle the influx of evacuees.

Griffioen praises the outpouring of support from the community, but says that the Cloverdale Arena doesn’t have the capacity to accept donations. He advises sending donations of goods to the Salvation Army and financial donations to the Red Cross.

“What the City of Surrey does have capacity for is to train volunteers,” says Griffioen, suggesting that those who want to become Emergency Social Services volunteers register on the City of Surrey’s website.

Tanvir Singh, the president of the Kwantlen Student Association, says that the KSA has been planning to organize a fundraiser in late August or early September to support wildfire evacuees for the past few weeks . Although they are still brainstorming ideas, Singh says that members of the KSA will be able to narrow down which charity they wish to donate money to, and how much they will donate, durings its next council meeting.

Singh also says that the KSA hopes to begin an awareness campaign on environmental sustainability and donate between $1000 and $1500 to a relevant charity sometime in the future.

“It’s really important for us as a community to come together…we’re all British Columbians,” says Singh.