British Columbia

Officials urge tourists to be aware of local wildfire conditions before travelling in B.C.

As wildfires force evacuations, creating a high demand for hotel rooms, should people be taking their summer holidays in wildfire zones?

Affected regions are still welcoming tourists

Visitors to a swim park in Osooyos look on as the Nk'Mip wildfire burns on the other side of Osooyos Lake. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Officials are asking tourists to do their homework before travelling to areas affected by wildfires — and to stay up-to-date with current conditions if they're already in those regions. 

There are currently 275 wildfires burning in B.C., and as of Wednesday, 50 evacuation orders and 79 evacuation alerts had been issued throughout the province.

If an area is under evacuation order, neither residents nor tourists will be allowed in. If it's under evacuation alert, travellers can visit — but if that alert is upgraded emergency services will not be able to help them, as the orders are intended to help those forced from their primary residence only.

Campfires have been banned province-wide, whether you're near a wildfire or not.

As the Nk'Mip Creek fire in the southern Okanagan grew on Sunday evening, Lindsay Lenert and her family were alerted that they might have to pack up and leave their campsite at any time. Early the next morning, they were ordered to evacuate.

Lenert, who is from Dawson Creek, B.C., had planned a two-week trip to the area, hoping to enjoy the sunshine and the heat. 

Her family is now at a temporary spot in Oliver, B.C., and in a couple of weeks they plan to go to the Shuswap for another two weeks. 

"I think it's just a wait-and-see game," Lenert said. "You know, just gotta make the best of it."

Fires burn on a hill in Osoyoos, B.C. on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary says it's still welcoming visitors to areas that are not under evacuation order or alert, particularly near Mount Baldy, Bridesville and Rock Creek. 

"Like most of B.C., our region is dry, hot and extremely susceptible to wildfire right now," emergency operations centre information officer Frances Maika said.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says the Okanagan is "open for business," and while wine country in Oliver and Osooyos will likely be affected by the Nk'Mip Creek fire, wine tours are open in the Okanagan Falls and Naramata areas. 

Anyone with camping reservations near Brenda Creek, Thomas Creek and within the Nk'Mip Creek wildfire areas are advised to cancel their trips, as officials say they will not be allowed in the area due to evacuation orders.

Road checkpoints have been set up to inform residents and travellers of the current wildfire situation. 

Hotel space limited

The province declared a state of emergency on Tuesday to help the government secure accommodation for evacuees if necessary. 

Earlier this week, authorities asked residents who were leaving their homes due to smoky skies to make arrangements to stay with friends or family, in order to leave hotel rooms free for evacuees.

"All the facilities in Kamloops are full, all the facilities in Merritt are full," said Ken Gillis with the Thompson Nicola Regional District. 

Smoke from a wildfire can be seen on the hills behind Oliver, B.C., on July 19. (Anita Bathe/CBC)

Andrew Morrison, senior regional manager for Emergency Management B.C., said accommodations in the Thompson-Okanagan region are limited. 

Morrison said emergency personnel are working to keep evacuees as close to their home towns as possible, but in some cases they have been asked to travel a few hours away. 

He recommended that anyone under evacuation alert should make a plan to stay with family and friends if possible. 

Businesses already struggling

The wildfires are an additional blow to tourism businesses who lost out on most of their revenue over the last year-and-a-half as the COVID-19 pandemic kept travellers away. 

Phil Elliot, a hotel owner in Osooyos, says he's seeing more cancellations, but he's still keen to welcome guests. 

He wants anyone with reservations to call him, even daily, to check in and get a sense of how the community is being affected by wildfire.

"One day it could be clear here and the next day it could be smoky, and there could be other fires popping up around," he said. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan said the provincial government will continue to support the tourism industry as it has throughout the pandemic.

"For those businesses that have been affected, we have been there for over a year-and-a-half to make sure that we're stabilizing them, making sure that they have the capital that they need to keep operating, and we'll keep doing that."

Horgan is advising anyone with travel plans to check with local authorities and service providers for advice on whether to cancel or not.

With files from Michelle Ghoussoub Brady Strachan


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