The Precipice Fire has since calmed down but was a threat to surrounding homes for nearly the entire summer

Bella Coola economy suffers effects of 2017 wildfire season

The province has spent just $543 million in fighting wildfires so far this year

The province has spent just $543 million in fighting wildfires so far this year, and that’s just costs directly associated with suppressing the hundreds of blazes around the province.

Despite not knowing the final cost, Premier John Horgan says this year’s record wildfire season won’t burn a hole in the province’s next budget.

“I talked to (Finance Minister) Carole James about that as we laid out our fiscal plan last week and she’s confident that we’ll continue to be able to balance the budget and meet the extraordinary cost of suppression of the fires this year,” Horgan said.

Bella Coola felt the brunt of the brutal wildfire season right in its collective pocketbook. Tourism bookings were down almost 90 percent in July and August, and many businesses suffered with lack of supplies due to the volatile conditions across Highway 20, which resulted in frequent and sudden closures.

The Bella Coola Valley Tourism’s Visitor Information Booth saw its visits decline by almost 50 percent. So far it has recorded a total of 749 visitors as opposed to 1298 from the 2016 season. However, things have improved since the beginning of September and the onset of the popular bear-viewing season.

“There were still across-the-board visitor cancellations due to reliability concerns of Highway 20, but after a dismal summer season September gave most Valley tourism businesses a much-needed boost,” said Tom Hermance, President of Bella Coola Valley Tourism. “Bear-viewing operators and tour guides saw the greatest share of tourists, though the numbers are still lower than average. Early reservations for next summer are coming in at a faster rate than in previous years, due to BC Ferries’ direct service announcement.”

The Central Coast Regional District’s Community Economic Development Officer, Bridget Horel, conducted a survey with local businesses in regard to the wildfire’s impacts.

CCRD Chair Alison Sayers had this to say about the survey.

“A total of 40 businesses responded to the BC Wildfire Business Impact Survey for the Central Coast. All of these businesses indicated that they had been impacted by the BC Wildfires,” said Sayers. “72 percent of businesses indicated that the impacts would result in a decrease in revenue with some businesses anticipating a decrease of more than 50 percent.”

Sayers said that the unpredictability of the highway closures topped the list of concerns, along with issues getting supplies and the loss of customers.

“Looking forward, the most commonly identified area for support was marketing to get customers back,” Sayers said. “Support with supply chain issues such as transportation and access to suppliers, along with operating capital, and contingency planning were also identified.”

Our local situation appears to line up with what the premier said last week. According to Horgan, the challenges will be dealing with the consequences for small businesses and the economy following the province rescinding of the state of emergency.

Making his first appearance as Premier at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention, Horgan pledged to help local governments deliver on these challenges.

“Local governments are on the front lines of big challenges facing people and communities. But for too long they haven’t been given the help they need,” Horgan said. “We’re listening and working in partnership with local leaders to find solutions and respond to urgent issues like wildfires, housing and the overdose crisis.”

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