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B.C. still open to tourists, despite wildfires

Patrick Johnston

Wildfire haze obscures the sun over B.C. Place, August 4 2017. (Gerry Kahrmann/Postmedia Network)

Wildfire haze obscures the sun over B.C. Place, August 4 2017. (Gerry Kahrmann/Postmedia Network)

B.C.'s official tourism agency wants travellers to know that even with wildfires burning in some regions, the province is still open for visitors.

Destination B.C.'s vice-president of global marketing, Maya Lange, said Thursday that while many business in the B.C. Interior have been directly affected by wildfires, there are many which haven't, but are still seeing a drop in visitors.

"B.C. is open to explore," she said Thursday.

"Our thoughts are with all of those impacted and our first priority is ensuring people are safe and know where to find information," she said. Many vacation spots have had to close because of the wildfire situation.

"We are extremely proud of the business owners in the affected areas. They are resourceful, innovative and resilient," and have helped feed and house emergency personnel fighting wildfires this summer as well as care for evacuees and stranded travellers, she added.

Elsewhere, "there are businesses that been impacted because of access issues," she said.

But businesses in areas not affected by wildfires, like the Thompson-Okanagan or the Kootenays, have also seen a drop in visitors, especially by people who live in B.C. and Alberta.

Many of those cancellations, Lange said, have been because of misinformation about the wildfire or the air quality situation. She suggested travellers check hellobc.com/wildfire for up-to-date information. Drivers should check DriveBC.ca for the latest road conditions. The B.C. Wildfire Service's website is also useful.

Destination B.C. is stepping up efforts to get the word out to locals and to potential visitors from further afield that "we're still open."

"We are encouraging businesses in non-impacted areas to contact their customers who have reservations to share updates," she said.

A big press is being put on to connect with potential travellers in B.C. and Alberta through both traditional means — newspapers and billboards, for instance — and through social media.

On the other hand, there has been a noted surge in tourism in the coastal parts of the province, especially on Vancouver Island, Lange said.

And Destination B.C. is adding to their traditional push to promote shoulder season travel.

"We will ensure that impacted areas receive additional marketing support once it is safe to visit again and capacity has been established," she said.

There are 138 fires currently burning across the province, the B.C. Wildfire Service said. There have been 1,031 fires since the beginning of the 2017 fire season in April, which have burned more than 9,000 square kilometres of land.

That is now the biggest fire season since records were first kept in the early 1950s.

More than $321 million has been spent by the wildfire service this year. Between firefighters from the wildfire service, personnel from other provinces and countries and local private contractors, there are over 4,000 people currently involved in fighting fires.

August is traditionally the height of the B.C. wildfire season. The wildfire service's chief fire information officer, Kevin Skrepnek, said there was no reason to think anything was going to change in the near future.

"Certainly not done this season by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "Generally warm and dry conditions are going to be the order of the day, going forward really."

But fire activity, especially on the biggest fires — the Hanceville/Riske Creek fire west of Williams Lake and the Elephant Hill fire northeast of Cache Creek — had proved to be lower mid-week versus last weekend.

"That's down to a shift in the weather and hard work happening."

Even so, the extended forecast suggested very little rain on the way in coming weeks, he said.

Emergency Management B.C. said the current state of emergency, set to expire Friday, was being reviewed for possible extension.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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