British Columbia

'It's been a challenge': B.C. tourism operators feel the heat from wildfires

An unusually cold spring in Wells Gray provincial park meant the 2017 tourist season was already off to a slow start, but the closure of the park due to the wildfire risk means tour operators are now feeling financially stressed.

Adventure outfits hit particularly hard by closure of Wells Gray provincial park

Wells Gray provincial park was completely closed to visitors on July 9, 2017 because of wildfires in the surrounding area. (BC Parks)

An unusually cold spring in Wells Gray provincial park meant the 2017 tourist season was already off to a slow start, but the closure of the park due to the wildfire risk means tour operators are now feeling financially stressed.

Ian Eakins of Wells Gray Adventures said he was shocked this weekend to learn the park would be completely closed to the public as a precautionary measure — it's the first time in 30 years of operation this has happened. 

"Just a week ago, we were changing our hiking program due to too much snow in the alpine. Now, we're completely shut down due to fire hazard. So yeah, it's been a challenge to say the least," Eakins said.

Wells Gray Provincial Park is just one of dozens of provincial parks that have been closed because of the wildfires that have burned through thousands of hectares of land in central B.C.

Campers and hikers were evacuated Sunday from from the park, located north of Kamloops. Those who spoke with CBC News said they understood the need to manage the risk in a park with only one route in and out in case of emergency.

'It's not just us'

But Eakins questioned why the provincial government couldn't come up with a plan to leave parts of the park open, mitigating some of the financial pain for local business owners.

"It's not just us. It's all the small guide operators in this area. Tourism in Clearwater is about a $35-million-a-year business," Eakins said. "It's been a tough game for sure."

Larger tourist businesses have been affected by the fires as well. Blazes burning near Quesnel have resulted in the closure of the railway there, meaning the Rocky Mountaineer train company has had to come up with alternate plans for tourists taking the "Rainforest to Gold Rush" trip between Vancouver and Jasper.

Other train voyages that take passengers through Kamloops instead of Quesnel have not been affected.

"The wildfire situation in B.C. is unstable and we continue to monitor it closely to determine if it will affect other departures," Rocky Mountaineer said in a written statement.

Canada Revenue Agency offers possible relief 

There may be a bit of assistance in the works for business owners impacted by the fires — at least when it comes to paying taxes.

On Sunday, the Canada Revenue Agency tweeted that people and businesses affected by the wildfires could be eligible for taxpayer relief, under provisions that allow the federal government to waive penalties and interest for people who are unable to meet their obligations because of extraordinary circumstances.

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