Heavy smoke from wildfires continued to blanket Salmon Arm on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Heavy smoke from wildfires continued to blanket Salmon Arm on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Column: Caring for our own amid wildfire/tourist season

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere

Over the weekend, a North Okanagan hotelier issued an unconventional request, asking people to reconsider plans to visit the region.

On Aug. 7, amid peak season for hotels/motels, Ashley Olson, general manager for Fairfield by Marriott’s Vernon and Salmon Arm locations, put out a travel notice urging non-essential travellers to modify their plans this month in order to support ongoing evacuation efforts relating to wildfires in the region.

As of Aug. 9., with the 55,700-hectare White Rock Lake wildfire continuing to burn, evacuation orders and alerts continued to be in effect in four regional districts, on Splatsin band land (IR#1), Okanagan Indian Band land, Neskonlith land (IR #2) as well as in the City of Vernon, the Village of Chase and the District of Sicamous. (A number of orders and alerts have since been downgraded/rescinded)

Olsen said the hotel chain is working on how it will accommodate evacuees while honouring existing reservations, and said it was critical rooms were freed up via reservation cancellations, or else hotels in the area would face the difficult decision of having to ask evacuees to find alternative accommodations.

Read more: North Okanagan hotel manager asks non-essential travellers to reconsider travel dates due to wildfires

Read more: Salmon Arm Fairgrounds open for White Rock Lake wildfire evacuees with hobby farm animals

Anyone following local social media groups will have likely seen it suggested that now might not be a good time for people to visit the area, optically and in terms of accommodation. People in crisis, forced to flee their homes and trying to secure accommodation in Salmon Arm or elsewhere, might not appreciate seeing others having the time of their life recreating nearby while being perfectly capable of returning to their primary residence elsewhere whenever they wish.

Most people, it seems, recognize the important role tourism plays in the North Okanagan-Shuswap, especially after last summer, when travel and business in general was impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic. For local hotels, restaurants and other businesses that benefit from tourism, being once again able to welcome out-of-town guests, while bringing people back to work, has been a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Unfortunately, with the prevailing heavy smoke resulting from this year’s abnormal wildfire season in B.C., the air hasn’t been so fresh as of late.

At the very least, for the remainder of the summer those considering a vacation in B.C. should check out in advance what’s happening in the community and area they wish to visit, and plan accordingly and with respect. No one wants to pull up the welcome mat, but we do need to care for our own.

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B.C. Wildfires 2021