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After some tourism companies have looked forward to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the effects of highway controls, road closures and evacuations due to spreading forest fires are emerging.

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Joanne Lee-Young The Sparks Lake fire at the Kamloops Fire Department is the largest in the province at 402 square kilometers, but people are not at risk in the rural area. Photo by BC WILDFIRE SERVICE /about REUTERS

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Just as BC’s tourism industry began its long journey to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it faces a new challenge as more than 300 forest fires burn across the province.

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Less than two weeks ago, BC Tourism’s great figures, from Provincial Minister to BC Hotel Association CEO, encouraged people to explore the province safely as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

Many tourism company operators are now preparing for the effects of highway controls, road closures, evacuations, and possibly shortened or canceled travel plans due to the spreading forest fires.

On Sunday, the Sun Peaks resort community urged visitors to stay away to assist in forest fire evacuation orders.

Officials say 132 addresses in the Whitecroft community, near the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort community, were evacuated due to a fire approximately one mile long.

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Brandi Schier, a spokeswoman for the Sun Peaks Emergency Response Center, says resort firefighters are helping BC Wildfire Service crews fight the fire in Embleton Mountain.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional Ward has also issued an evacuation alert for residents of nearby Heffley Lake, and Schier says that includes 156 addresses.

The charred remains of the railway bridge, which was destroyed by wildfire on June 30, can be seen during a media tour of the authorities in Lytton on July 9, 2021. The charred remains of the railway bridge, which was destroyed by wildfire on June 30, can be seen during a media tour of the authorities in Lytton on July 9, 2021. Photo by JENNIFER GAUTHIER /REUTERS

The region containing the village of Lytton, which was almost destroyed by a rapidly spreading fire on June 30, has a total of 12 evacuation warnings and nine evacuation orders.

Schier says there are no warnings or orders for Sun Peaks, but only residents are allowed to enter the popular tourist destination.

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“We’re just asking people to pause these plans while the situation is dealt with,” she says.

“We were evacuated yesterday,” said Yolanda Dye, co-owner of Cahilty Creek Bar and Grill and Capones Italian restaurant, which opened in Sun Peaks last winter. “I feel safe. The community was great.”

“In terms of business, the summer looks stable. We looked forward to seeing people who came for the first time last year and loved it, and now this is it, “she said, referring to the forest fires.

“Everyone is in a good mood and we’re going through and trying to make sure employees feel safe,” said Dye, who had focused on balancing the return traffic with securing enough staff to handle it after the COVID-19 lift was lifted. Restrictions to keep up in early July.

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“I am hopeful,” she said.

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Farther south, the Hell’s Gate Airtram on the Trans Canada Highway south of Boston Bar recently went back into operation seven days a week.

In May, the attraction was only open two days a week, said Oya Kilinc, who works in the attraction’s administration. In June it was open five days a week, “and then on July 1st we were open seven days a week and then we were open a couple of days and then the fires came.”

The highway between Lytton and Hope is temporarily closed to everyone except local residents due to a forest fire. This follows the wildfire that devastated Lytton on June 30th.

“We’re up and running,” said Oya Kilinc. “We let the people come. And we don’t always wait to fill the (street) cabin to 10 to 15 people before we leave. Even if it’s two people, we’ll let it go.

“I’m not sure how this will work,” said Kilinc. “It’s hard to say. I hope people come, but we don’t know how it will be.”

With files from The Canadian Press

jlee-young@postmedia.com

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