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‘One thing after another’: Wildfires the latest threat to B.C. tourism after long pandemic

Click to play video: 'B.C. Wildfires: dire impact on businesses’ bottom lines'
B.C. Wildfires: dire impact on businesses’ bottom lines
The summer of 2021 is supposed to be an economic turning point for many businesses emerging from pandemic restrictions but the explosive start to this year's wildfire season could spell the end of many livelihoods in the province's interior. Paul Johnson reports – Jul 10, 2021

Just as businesses in B.C.’s interior were seeing light at the end of the tunnel from the COVID-19 pandemic, the early onset of a potentially bad fire season has them back on edge.

“It just seems like it’s one thing after the next,” Tyler Speed, a boat captain with River Monster Adventures in Lillooet, told Global News.

“With everything going on lately it’s very difficult to put together a season.”

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With travel restrictions lifted, Speed had been hoping for business to pick up. But the devastating fire in nearby Lytton and the growing number of fires around the region are having an impact.

That’s a problem for Speed, who relies on the hot summer months for the best business.

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Fairy Creek exclusion zone creates roadblocks for tourism companies

“We’ve got a short summer season here and we try to make the best of it, and we want to stay busy but it’s difficult,” he said.

“We have a few months where I’ve got to be out there every day to put food on the table.”

In 100 Mile House, it’s hard for Keith Jackson, owner of Jackson’s Social Club and Brewhouse, not to get flashbacks to 2017.

Four years ago Sunday, the community was ordered to evacuate due to a fast-moving wildfire.

“I think here we go again,” Jackson said.

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“It’s like we’re almost getting back to normal … we just start opening up, we’re allowed back inside, and tourist season is kicking off … and we’re looking forward to a busy summer.”

For the time being, the fires haven’t cut into business at the brewhouse.

Click to play video: 'Video captures wildfire burning east of Vernon'
Video captures wildfire burning east of Vernon

Tourists are still coming to town, and the small community’s population has actually swollen due to the arrival of firefighters and evacuees.

But he said residents are also taking the threat seriously, and vividly remember the experience of 2017.

“It would be nice to have a regular old summer,” he said.

As of Sunday, there were 277 wildfires burning across British Columbia, 78 of which were sparked in the preceding 48 hours.

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The vast majority of those fires in the Southern Interior, and at least three have sparked sizable evacuation orders.

Back in Lillooet, Speed remains hopeful for a strong season, however things play out.

“We’re strong out here though, we keep digging and keep grinding away and hoping for the best, that’s all we can really do at the end of the day,” he said.

“It’s beautiful out here, spectacular scenery, the fishing is world-class, we have enormous fish on this river … there’s something for everyone out here, whether it’s fishing, the scenery, animals, the beaches.”

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