Highway 1 south of Cache Creek during the immediate aftermath of the fire. The usually busy highway has seen a steep drop-off in traffic, and local businesses are feeling the results. Photo by Matti J. Lagerborn.

Local businesses suffering in fire aftermath

Responses to a business hotline indicate that the wildfires are having a serious impact.

The BC Economic Development Association (BCEDA), in association with FortisBC, launched a Business Recovery Hotline on July 24, asking businesses that have lost revenue because of the wildfires to contact them. Data from the first week of the survey shows that businesses impacted by the wildfires are in trouble.

“Since the launch of the hotline, over 100 businesses have called to seek information and to provide key details of the impact to them and their employees,” says Dale Wheeldon, president and CEO of BCEDA. “It is heartbreaking to hear some of the stories of what they are experiencing, and we are doing everything we can to get back to these businesses as new supports become available.

“We have volunteer economic developers from around B.C. who are calling some businesses back to provide additional support and to keep them informed of new programs.”

Impacted businesses in all industries are encouraged to call the hotline if they have experienced business interruption in any way. Business owners are asked questions that will help identify the business’s, and the community’s, short- and long-term needs. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and can be reached at 1-877-422-3377. It is open to all business owners in affected areas, whether they and their community were evacuated or not.

The information will be shared with communities, the Canadian Red Cross, Community Futures British Columbia, the province of British Columbia, chambers of commerce, and others to help them plan as the community moves forward. BCEDA is planning to send in economic recovery teams to assist communities in the recovery planning process.

According to the first week of data, just under 40 per cent of the businesses that responded indicated loss of business and/or revenue because of the wildfires. When asked what their immediate needs were, 60 per cent said “understanding what grants and financial support were available”, while close to 50 per cent said they wanted to know about help with operating expenses. More than 20 per cent said they wanted employee support and advice.

Twenty per cent of the businesses said that they had had to lay off staff, and 45 per cent said their employees would need assistance. Twenty-five per cent said their insurance does not cover losses due to fire and/or smoke damage, and 45 per cent said their insurance does not cover loss of income, inventory, or interruption of business caused by fire.

The report adds that many business owners are finding it difficult to figure out who to call with questions, or feel they have been abandoned, and that the hotline is appreciated. The hotline is also hearing from many businesses in areas that were not evacuated yet were severely impacted, and who have been told they are not eligible for insurance.

“Whether you are a business that has already returned to your community or one that is still evacuated, we encourage you to call,” says Wheeldon. “The information you provide is a critical piece of helping us encourage supports from agencies that are all working hard to help everyone recover.”

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