The mayor of Osoyoos, British Columbia, encourages potential tourists to do their homework before heading to the South Okanagan, as a large forest fire rages in the nearby mountain.
Sue McKortoff said that while the tourist resort destination still welcomes tourists, she urges visitors to prepare and plan ahead.
“Please be sure to do your homework. Watch carefully. Decide where you plan to go. Are you coming to a hotel or a campsite? Check with them before you even leave your home. Don’t come here and assume everything is fine, because at this point it isn’t, ”the mayor told Global News on Wednesday.
About 1,000 tourists were evacuated from the Spirit Ridge Resort and the adjacent Nk’Mip Campground and RV Resort early Tuesday morning, due to the advancing forest fire in Nk’Mip Creek as it burned towards the South-East.
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McKortoff urges evacuated vacationers to return home.
“Tourists who have been evacuated should consider returning home because we have nowhere to put them,” she said.
“If you are in one of the other resorts or in a hotel and you have booked and are comfortable there, we are not telling you to come home, we are just telling people who are ask where to go, that our job is to protect everyone and, certainly, our residents.
Tourists are not eligible for support from Emergency Social Services (ESS).
Some local residents under evacuation orders have reported difficulty finding available accommodation, as hotels, motels and vacation rentals are teeming with visitors.
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“We hope that if there are locals who have been displaced, they will find family or friends to stay with, rather than going to the reception center and asking them to find a place.”
The 2,000 hectare wildfire, burning in mountainous terrain east of Osoyoos Lake, has prompted nearly 700 properties in the Osoyoos Regional District and Indian Band Reserve to be placed on evacuation orders while 1,000 other properties are on evacuation alert.
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McKortoff said no property has been evacuated in the town of Osoyoos, but more than 600 residential units are on alert, along with a handful of motels and hotels.
The unpredictable nature of the wildfire has caused some visitors to flee the area as a precaution, and businesses are facing massive cancellations.
McKortoff acknowledged that the threat from Mother Nature will have a financial impact on the local economy, which relies heavily on summer tourism dollars.
“Of course, we will be impacted. The same will be true for everyone in the Okanagan and British Columbia. I’m not sure there is much we can do to change that, ”she said.
“I am positively optimistic that things will improve.”
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Kassandra Lang, owner of Cheeks Wear Osoyoos, said she had noticed a dramatic decrease in foot traffic since the wildfire started on Monday afternoon.
“It just stopped when it came to foot traffic, fewer people entering,” she told Global News.
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“The last two days have been very slow, today has been a bit busier.”
Kody Rosentreter of North Basin Brewing said the losses from the wildfire come at an inopportune time as small businesses try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Businesses have to try to adapt and overcome these problems, but it’s difficult, especially in a city like this, which is so dependent on tourism.”
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“It seems to be driving tourism out of Osoyoos.”
In the upscale wine country of Oliver, British Columbia, wineries are also facing a financial blow as the rapid wildfire forces some businesses to evacuate and temporarily shut down.
Some wineries along Black Sage Road closed their doors to tourists on Tuesday.
“Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has been evacuated to ensure the safety of our guests and our team. We are all safe! the popular vineyard posted on Facebook.
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Phantom Creek Estates, the newest multi-million dollar luxury winery on Black Sage Bank, also said it was hit by the wildfire.
“Our cellar building is on evacuation order today,” the cellar posted online.
“While there is no imminent threat to the winery, as per orders, we will be closing the tasting room and winery offices today.”
The Nk’Mip Cellars at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, BC are temporarily closed as the entire property is evacuated.
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Other wineries further north on Black Sage Road, such as Silver Sage Winery, remain open as well as a plethora of wineries along Highway 97, known as the Golden Mile.
Dapinder Gill, general manager of Kismet Estate Winery, said 50% of reservations at his bistro were canceled as visitors fled the area.
Gill, who is also director of the Oliver / Osoyoos Winery Association and sits on the board of directors of the Wine Growers of British Columbia, said wineries in the Oliver area would suffer a significant financial blow due to the impact of forest fire on tourism.
“There will be financial impacts on all the vineyards in the valley, as we look forward to the tourist season, and this is one of our biggest financial assets, it is the tourists who come to the region. With tourists being cautious and canceling their reservations, it’s a huge financial blow to the entire valley, ”Gill told Global News.
Gill does not believe that any vineyards were damaged and that any structures were destroyed by the wildfire.
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