Wildfires hurting regional tourism, Quesnel mayor says

Quesnel and area businesses owners and tourism operators are feeling the impact from the ongoing wildfires.

Quesnel had to cancel its popular annual Billy Barker Days, a family festival celebrating the town's gold rush heritage, said Mayor Bob Simpson ,and that was just the beginning.

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"We have had to cancel this event which is so popular along with the rodeo and Skyfest Airshow event because our airspace is now restricted," he said.

"We just didn't have the emergency personnel needed in terms of firefighters, RCMP and the hospital too. This is one of our busiest times."

According to Simpson, there are two degrees of impact.

"The first is non-profit organizations which will have incurred the bulk of their costs in organizing an event but will now see no revenue," Simpson said. "We need to make sure they are looked after."

The second impact is downtown businesses.

"The inventory is up for this event season but now retailers are carrying more inventory than needed. There are people visiting Quesnel but it does not have that same relaxed feeling," Simpson said. "We want our independent businesses to know that we will do what we can to help."

Simpson recently presented the idea of a festival relief fund to incoming premier-designate John Horgan.

"We need to ensure that these people are looked after and John Horgan indicated that he felt it was an idea worth pursuing."

According to Destination B.C., there are about 147 evacuated tourism businesses.

"We just want people to know that not all of B.C. is impacted. All of B.C. is not burning," said Maya Lang, vice-president of Global Marketing at Destination BC.

"Other areas are welcoming guests and we urge people to check maps for fire restrictions on the provincial website. It's important to call ahead before going on holiday. Know before you go."

Despite Billy Barker Days being cancelled, Barkerville is still welcoming visitors.

"We are still open and still safe," said James Douglas, Barkerville manager of visitor experiences and public relations.

"Our numbers are lower and we are definitely impacted by the highway closures."

And Barkerville, as well as many other neighboring communities, is doing its part to help those in need of refuge.

"We have people staying with us who have been impacted. And they can pay as much or as little as they can and we are happy to get the word out," Douglas said.

Julie Fowler, executive and artistic director at Island Mountain Arts in nearby Wells, has also felt the impacts as the annual ArtsWells Festival gets underway in B.C.

"We have certainly felt it 100 per cent," said Fowler. "Everything is chaotic but Wells is still a safe haven so far."

The popular festival continues to showcase arts in all of its forms from song, dance and writing and also offers workshops.

"As an organization we had a meeting to strategize," Fowler said. "All we can do is take things day by day. Our hearts go out to our colleagues who have had to cancel their events," Fowler said.

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