Officials are asking tourists to do their homework before traveling to fire-hit areas – and to keep abreast of current conditions if they are already in those areas.
There are 275 forest fires currently burning in BC, and 50 evacuation orders and 79 evacuation warnings have been issued across the province as of Wednesday.
When an area is under evacuation orders, residents and tourists are not allowed in. If it is under evacuation alert, travelers can visit it – but when this alert is updated, the emergency services cannot help them, as the orders are only intended to help those who have to leave their primary residence.
Campfires have been banned across the province whether you are near wildfire or not.
As the fire at Nk’Mip Creek in the southern Okanagan increased on Sunday evening, Lindsay Lenert and her family were alerted that they may have to pack and leave their campsite at any time. The next morning they were ordered to evacuate.
Lenert, who is from Dawson Creek, BC, had planned a two-week trip to the area in hopes of enjoying the sun and heat.
Her family is now temporarily in Oliver, BC, and in a few weeks they plan to go to Shuswap for another two weeks.
“I think it’s just a wait and see game,” said Lenert. “You know, you just have to make the best of it.”
The Kootenay Boundary Regional Ward says it still welcomes visitors to areas that are not under evacuation order or alarm, particularly near Mount Baldy, Bridesville and Rock Creek.
“Like most of BC, our region is currently arid, hot and extremely prone to forest fires,” said Frances Maika, information officer for the emergency services center.
The Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Ward says the Okanagan is “open to trade” and while the wine country in Oliver and Osooyos is likely to be affected by the fire at Nk’Mip Creek, 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 forest fire areas are advised to cancel their trips as officials say they will not be allowed in the area due to evacuation orders.
Roadside checks were set up to inform residents and travelers about the current forest fire situation.
Limited hotel space
The province declared a state of emergency on Tuesday to help the government secure shelter for evacuees if needed.
Earlier this week, authorities asked residents who have left their homes because of smoky skies to make arrangements to stay with friends or family to free hotel rooms for evacuees.
“All the facilities in Kamloops are full, all the facilities in Merritt are full,” said Ken Gillis of Thompson Nicola Regional District.
Andrew Morrison, senior regional manager for Emergency Management BC, said housing in the Thompson-Okanagan area was limited.
Morrison said rescue workers are working to keep evacuees as close to their hometowns as possible, but in some cases they have been asked to travel a few hours away.
He recommended that anyone on evacuation alert should make a plan to stay with family and friends whenever possible.
Companies are already struggling
The forest fires are an additional blow to tourism companies, which have lost most of their revenue in the past year and a half as the COVID-19 pandemic kept travelers away.
Phil Elliot, a hotel owner in Osooyos, says he’s seeing more cancellations, but he’s still interested in welcoming guests.
He wants anyone with reservations to call him, even daily, to see how wildfire has affected the community.
“One day it could be clear here and the next day it could be smoky and other fires could appear nearby,” he said.
BC Prime Minister John Horgan said the provincial government will continue to support the tourism industry as it has throughout the pandemic.
“We have been there for the affected companies for over a year and a half to make sure we stabilize them and make sure they have the capital they need to keep them going. will continue to do this. “
Horgan advises anyone planning to travel to check with local authorities and service providers whether or not to cancel.