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Industries rebounding in the South Cariboo after 2017 wildfires

‘Once they had to cancel last year they rebooked right away’

The 2017 wildfires and resulting evacuations affected several tourism industries across the South Cariboo.

“[Sheridan] lake was basically shut down. No one could go on it anymore and all the resorts were put on alert this side of the lake and the other side had to be evacuated,” said Manuela Betschart, the co-owner of Loon Bay Resort.

Because of the alert, roughly 300 customers cancelled their reservations causing the resort to lose out on around $150,000, according to Betschart.

“Well luckily with us, we have so many repeat customers and once they had to cancel last year they rebooked right away for this year. That helped out a whole lot,” said Betschart.

So far, Loon Bay had a strong June but early July hasn’t seen as many visitors as previous years. However, Betschart said it looks like it will be a normal summer once it’s mid-July and August, in terms of reservations.

People still call about fires though, to inquire if the area is under an alert or evacuation orders and any fire bans.

She said that people were phoning in May asking if the Allie Lake fire was anywhere close to them.

Some visitors ask if the fire ever reached the Loon Bay Resort’s property (it didn’t) or how close it got to Sheridan Lake’s shoreline. Betschart usually refers them to the west end of the lake where it actually came to the shore. The visitors will then go look at it on their boats.

Betschart said that when the weather gets dryer and all the lightning strikes happening has made her a little nervous but said she takes comfort in the fact that many people now have a better understanding of how to deal with those type of situations.

RELATED: Number of tourists coming to South Cariboo lower than last June

The resort has made some changes to the property in case there is a repeat summer though.

“We have a water pump at the resort and then we actually cut down quite a lot of tree’s and brushed them,” she said.

She also said the scenery is much the same and it almost looks like there was never a fire while driving on Highway 24.

“It’s an important fact we have to bring to the people because they don’t know and get weird information and pictures in their head which aren’t really true,” she said. “We did some consumer shows with the Fishing Highway 24 Tourist Association this year and kind of educated the people.”

John Mix, the manager of the Donex Pharmacy in 100 Mile House, said the store closed due to the evacuation on July 7 at the end of the business day. The closure lasted about two weeks and they reopened on July 22.

“That wasn’t our choice. In fact, we were one of the first places to open,” said Mix. “We got called to come back early because of our pharmacy needs.”

The manager said the closure cost them a good chunk of revenue and it was a situation where it takes a bit of time to regroup and it took two or three months to get some traction.

Mix, who stayed close by, kept his ear on the ground to hear how the store was doing during the evacuation.

“We kept on listening to the radio stations and of course anything else that people tell you and stuff like that,” says Mix. “They had roadblocks all over the place, you couldn’t go in and out from the back roads, so when you’re moving around you and you’re talking to people you find out what’s exactly going on down the road.”

As for Donex’ own recovery, he said they always struggled with getting deliveries from their warehouses on time but a week after they reopened, the warehouse kept them well-stocked and ready to go by delivering daily. He added the store managed to rebound by the community sticking, helping and shopping together.

Donex also rose up to help the community, working with the 100 Mile House Chamber of Commerce and the Red Cross, to aid several other local businesses and individuals. Donex donated $25,000 to the Red Cross and gave away free bottled and gave large donations to the food bank.

“We were on board with the recovery when we got back,” said Mix.

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About the Author: Brendan Jure

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