'Do your homework': Osoyoos mayor urges caution before vacationing near fire zone

It is a town that relies heavily on tourism dollars but the fire burning near Osoyoos is taking a toll on the local economy. Hundreds of tourists have already been forced out of town by the Nk’Mip Creek wildfire and dozens more have been placed on an alert and told to be ready to flee if needed. And while the town is still welcoming tourists, the mayor is urging would-be-visitors to do their homework before travelling to the vacation destination.

The mayor of Osoyoos, B.C., is encouraging prospective tourists to do their homework before travelling to the South Okanagan, as a large wildfire rages in the mountainside nearby.

Sue McKortoff said while the tourism resort destination is still welcoming tourists, it urges visitors to be prepared and plan ahead.

“Please make sure you do your homework. Look carefully. Decide where it is that you’re planning to go. Are you coming to a hotel or campground? Check with them before you even leave your house. Don’t come up here and assume that everything is fine, because, at this point, it’s not,” the mayor told Global News on Wednesday.

Approximately 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 encroaching Nk’Mip Creek wildfire as it burned towards the southeast.

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McKortoff is urging evacuated vacationers to head home.

“Tourists who have been evacuated need to consider going home, because we do not have anywhere to put them,” she said.

“If you’re at one of the other resorts or at a hotel and you are booked and are comfortable there, we are not telling you to go home, we are just telling people who are wondering where to go, that our job is to protect everybody and, certainly, our residents.”

Tourists are not eligible for Emergency Social Services (ESS) supports.

Some local residents under evacuation orders have reported trouble finding available accommodations, as hotels, motels and vacation rentals are packed with visitors.

“We are hoping that if there are locals that have been displaced, that they will find family or friends to stay with, rather than going to the reception centre and having them try and find a place.”

The 2,000-hectare wildfire, burning in mountainous terrain east of Osoyoos Lake, has prompted nearly 700 properties in the regional district and on the Osoyoos Indian band reserve to be placed under evacuation order while an additional 1,000 properties are under evacuation alert.

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McKortoff said no properties have been evacuated within the Town of Osoyoos, but more than 600 residential units are under an alert, as well as a handful of motels and hotels.

The unpredictable nature of the wildfire has resulted in some visitors fleeing the area as a precaution, and businesses are facing mass cancellations.

McKortoff acknowledged the threat caused by Mother Nature will take a financial toll on the local economy, which relies heavily on summer tourism dollars.

“Of course we will be impacted. So will everybody else in the Okanagan and in B.C. I am not sure there is a lot we can do to change that,” she said.

“I am positively optimistic that things are going to improve.”

Kassandra Lang, the owner of Cheeks Wear Osoyoos, said she’s noticed a considerable decrease in foot traffic since the wildfire sparked on Monday afternoon.

“It just came to a halt as far as foot traffic, fewer people coming in,” she told Global News.

Read more:
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“The last two days have been super slow, today has been a little bit busier.”

Kody Rosentreter of North Basin Brewing said losses caused by the wildfire come at an inopportune time as small businesses try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Businesses have to try and adapt and overcome these things, but it’s hard, especially in a town like this, that is so reliant on tourism.”

“It seems to be driving the tourism out of Osoyoos.”

In the premium grape-growing region of Oliver, B.C., wineries are also facing a financial hit as the fast-moving wildfire forces some businesses to evacuate and temporarily shutter.

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 winery guests and team. We are all safe!” the popular winery posted to Facebook.

Read more:
Nk’Mip Creek wildfire in South Okanagan still estimated at 2,000 hectares

Phantom Creek Estates, the newest multi-million dollar luxury winery on the Black Sage Bench, also said it was impacted by the wildfire.

“Our winery building is on evacuation order today,” the winery posted online.

“Although there is no imminent threat to the winery, in accordance with the orders, we will be closing the tasting room and the winery offices today.”

Nk’Mip Cellars at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, B.C.,  is temporarily closed as the entire property is evacuated.

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 per cent of reservations at its bistro were cancelled as visitors fled the area.

Gill, who is also a director at the Oliver/Osoyoos Winery Association and sits on the board of directors at the Wine Growers of British Columbia, said Oliver-area wineries will face a significant financial blow due to the wildfire’s impact on tourism.

“There will be financial impacts to all wineries around the valley, because we look forward to the tourist season, and that is one of our biggest financial assets is the tourists coming to the area. The tourists being cautious and cancelling their reservations, it is a very big financial hit for the whole valley,” Gill told Global News.

Gill doesn’t believe any vineyards have been damaged and no structures have been lost to the wildfire.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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