The province of British Columbia is facing one of its worst wildfire seasons on record, with more than 1,800 fires burning over 1.3 million hectares of land as of August 20, 2023. The unprecedented situation has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and a travel ban for some areas in the southern Interior, where the wildfires are most intense and threatening.
Travel Ban in Parts of B.C. Disrupting Tourism as Raging Wildfires Burn – B.C Wildfire 2023
The travel ban, which came into effect on August 19, 2023, restricts non-essential travel to and from the regions of Thompson-Nicola, Central Okanagan, Okanagan-Similkameen, Kootenay Boundary, and Columbia-Shuswap. The order also prohibits booking accommodation or camping sites outside one’s health authority, unless it is for work, school, or medical reasons.
The travel ban is meant to protect public safety and ensure that people who need accommodation in wildfire-affected areas have access to it. However, it also has a significant impact on the tourism industry, which relies heavily on visitors from other parts of the province and the country.
According to the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., tourism contributes about $21 billion to the provincial economy and supports over 300,000 jobs. The association estimates that the travel ban could cost the industry up to $500 million in lost revenue, depending on how long it lasts and how severe the fire situation becomes.
Some tourism operators in the affected regions have already seen a drastic drop in bookings and cancellations since the travel ban was announced. South of Kamloops, at the Lac Le Jeune Nature Resort, the manager Jason Upton, said he had only three guests left for the upcoming long weekend, out of a potential 100. He said the resort is on evacuation alert and surrounded by smoke from the nearby Ross Moore Lake fire, which has burned over 13,000 hectares.
“It’s devastating. We’ve been working hard all year to get ready for this season, and then this happens,” he said. “We’re losing thousands of dollars every day.”
Upton said he understands the need for the travel ban, but he hopes the government will provide some financial assistance to help tourism operators survive the crisis.
“We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for a hand up,” he said. “We need some support to get through this and recover.”
Other tourism operators in the regions not affected by the travel ban are also feeling the ripple effects of the wildfire situation. Brian Cant, acting president of Destination Greater Victoria, said the island city has seen a decline in visitors from other parts of B.C., especially from the Lower Mainland.
“Normally, we would see a lot of people coming over for a weekend getaway or a day trip, but that’s not happening right now,” he said. “People are staying close to home and avoiding unnecessary travel.”
Cant said Victoria still has some visitors from other provinces and territories, as well as from Washington state, thanks to the reopening of the Canada-U.S. border. However, he said the overall tourism numbers are still below pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re doing our best to welcome people who are here and make them feel safe and comfortable,” he said. “But we’re also mindful of the situation in other parts of B.C., and we’re sending our thoughts and prayers to those who are affected by the fires.”
The B.C. government has not indicated how long the travel ban will remain in place, but it has said it will be reviewed every week. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she hopes to see some improvement in the fire conditions by September when more people are expected to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We know that this is a challenging time for everyone in B.C., especially for those who live and work in the areas where the fires are burning,” she said. “We ask everyone to follow the orders and guidelines that are in place, and to do their part to prevent further spread of the fires and the virus.”
To assist the residents and communities impacted by the wildfires, the B.C. government has declared a $100 million fund. The fund will be administered by the Red Cross and will provide immediate and long-term support for evacuees, such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and mental health services.
The B.C. government has also extended the provincial state of emergency until September 3, 2023, giving it the power to take any necessary actions to protect public safety and property. The state of emergency also allows the government to access federal resources and support for the wildfire response.
The B.C. Wildfire Service has deployed over 3,000 personnel, including firefighters, support staff, and contractors, to fight the fires across the province. They are also receiving assistance from other provinces, territories, and countries, such as Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, Mexico, and Australia.
The B.C. Wildfire Service has urged the public to follow all evacuation orders and alerts and to avoid any activities that could cause or spread fires, such as campfires, smoking, or off-road driving. The service also advises people to stay informed about the fire situation and air quality by visiting its website or contacting 1-888-336-7378.
The B.C. Wildfire Service has thanked the public for their generosity and support, but also reminded them that it cannot accept donations of food, supplies, or equipment. Instead, it encourages people who want to help to donate to the Red Cross or other verified charities that are providing relief to the affected communities.
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