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b.c. wildfires

olunteers and evacuees are seen outside of the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, B.C. As of Monday, 159 wildfires burned across the province, including 15 that threatened communities.Jeff Putnam/The Canadian Press

Two days after being forced from her home in Williams Lake, B.C., Charlene MacBurney and her friend gathered their belongings at the emergency reception centre in Kamloops.

They spent the last couple of nights sleeping on cots surrounded by hundreds of other wildfire evacuees in the repurposed arena, but a kind stranger she had met the night before opened up her home to them.

"I was feeding my cat and one of the volunteers was talking to me," Ms. MacBurney said on Monday. "She went home and later that evening phoned me. She and her husband wanted to take me and the cat in. She had gotten my number off the cat crate. "I said, 'Well, I've also got a friend from Williams Lake with me.' And she said, 'That's no problem at all. We've got lots of room.'"

Read more: B.C. wildfires displace nearly 40,000 as Williams Lake becomes largest town to evacuate

B.C. wildfires: The damage so far, and how you can help

Nearly 40,000 people are displaced from their homes because of British Columbia's wildfires, many of them staying at 11 emergency reception centres opened across the province. The Kamloops reception centre, which accepted thousands of evacuees from Williams Lake over the weekend, received so many offers to help that it had to turn volunteers away. "It's overwhelming," Ms. MacBurney's friend, Ruth Mazurkiewicz, said. The two stood outside the centre on Monday afternoon clutching pale green pillows and blankets. "You can't thank them enough."

An area devoted to pets was inundated with corporate and individual donations; Bonnie McBride, a co-ordinator for the Four Paws Food Bank, said they have given away 500 to 800 bags of pet food a day.

Close to 1,000 people volunteered to walk dogs and hand out supplies, and hundreds of families offered to foster pets. "Right now, the will to donate and the support has outweighed the need about eight to one," Ms. McBride said. "We could have had 10 people for every pet on premises yesterday, which we can't have, because it's too overwhelming for the pet."

Children's entertainer Chris Wlodarczyk, known to locals as Uncle Chris the Clown, spent much of Monday outside the arena making balloon animals, doing magic tricks and handing out stuffed toys to young evacuees. "I've been a clown in Kamloops for 18 years, the whole town knows me," he said. "I just had to help out. The nice thing is, a lot of people here are from Williams Lake, and I do the Harvest Fair there, so a lot of the kids recognize me. I'm just a friend who came by to hang out with them."

Former health minister Terry Lake, who staffed a table for the Kamloops Food Bank on Monday, said truckloads of donations came from Fort McMurray, the northeastern Alberta community ravaged by wildfires last year. "They know what it's like to go through this and we are so thankful for their generosity," said Mr. Lake, who was Kamloops's mayor and a councillor before his time in provincial politics.

As of Monday, 159 wildfires burned across the province, including 15 that threatened communities. The Ashcroft Reserve fire – the province's largest, estimated at 52,600 hectares – is less active than earlier in the week, said Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer.

Residents of nearby Cache Creek, the first major community to issue an evacuation order, are able to return home on Tuesday afternoon. The village will remain on evacuation alert.

Smoke advisories expanded Monday to include all of southeast B.C., with the Interior Health Authority cautioning people to avoid strenuous outdoor activities. Air quality advisories were also issued in Alberta and Saskatchewan because of the B.C. wildfires.

Fires shut down access to parts of busy mountain destinations in Alberta and bordering areas in B.C., including slices of Banff National Park and the adjacent Kootenay National Park. Scores of hiking trails and backcountry campsites are closed off due to a wildfire near Verdant Creek, first spotted Saturday. Parks Canada staff evacuated hikers in the Egypt Lake/Healy Pass area that day. The fire is roughly 2.5 kilometres away from Sunshine Village, a major ski area, although it is burning on the other side of the continental divide.

"Parks Canada's priority is to ensure the safety of visitors and infrastructure at Sunshine Village and continues to monitor the wildfire situation in the area closely," the federal agency said in a statement Monday. "We are working with assistance from the town of Banff fire department to implement structural and facility protection at Sunshine Village as a precaution."

With a report from Carrie Tait in Calgary