Tourism operations across the South Cariboo have stepped up their game for both firefighters and evacuees.
The Spruce Hills Resort & Spa, despite being evacuated on July 9, have opened their doors to accommodate firefighters, helicopter crews and emergency officials.
Located directly across the highway from South Cariboo Regional Airport (also known as 108 Mile Ranch Airport), the resort has become a key location for emergency workers to rest and eat.
With the resort’s staff evacuated, General Manager Len Doucette called on the most experienced people he could think of – former long-time owners Pat and Juanita Corbett. The couple, who had evacuated to Vancouver, stepped up to help out. With permits provided by the Cariboo Regional District, the Corbetts drove back to the business they ran for 33 years, then known as The Hills Health Ranch, and pitched in to get the resort running.
“We’re up and running now,” says Pat Corbett, “but for 30 hours we were pretty busy. Juanita was in the kitchen, and I was doing – whatever was needed.”
Prior to selling the resort, Corbett was inducted into the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame (2009), and the couple were inducted into the US Spa Industry Hall of Fame in 2015.
“Just down the highway from Spruce Hills, 108 Mile Golf Resort is also housing and feeding workers,” says Amy Thacker, CEO of Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association. “We are hearing stories from all throughout our region of tourism and hospitality businesses making huge efforts to help firefighting efforts and evacuees.”
Despite also being in the evacuation zone, the 108 Mile Golf Resort has been housing and feeding crews, RCMP officers and fire fighters on the front line since the beginning of the fire.
While the new owners have only owned the resort since June 30, they stepped in without hesitation to offer their services for fire crews in the area, donating up to $10,o00 worth of food and renting out rooms for free.
While numbers have since dwindled, at the peak, their kitchen manager and chef fed over 250 people in a night. As of July 17, the resort has served over 4,000 meals since re-opening their doors.
The owners of the Iron Horse Pub in Lone Butte also stepped up to help.
Although they are now running on limited hours due to the evacuation alert in the area, on the evening of Friday, July 7, when evacuees and began stopping by at their location in Highway 24, one of the main evacuation routes for evacuees in the South Cariboo, owners Karen Owens and Tracy Armstrong saw people in need.
They “threw open their hearts and business to help,” says Thacker.
They provided meals, showers and laundry facilities, and opened the acreage behind the pub to trailers and campers.
“It just happened,” says co-owner Karen Owens, “We saw people displaced with no place to go. The average person doesn’t think twice. We give them a place to sit, feed them, try to give them a sense of community.”
Even down five staff themselves, the women cooked breakfast for the evacuees, and even helped find a temporary home for one traveler.
Regular customers have gave their love back to the pub.They’ve dropped off donations, including water, for the evacuees. Food supplier, Sysco, got word of what the owners were doing, and topped up the pub’s next order to help them support the evacuees.
“Out of tragedy you always get the best of humanity,” says Owens.
Now with fewer evacuees left on site, Owens says she has no regrets about staying to help others during the tense early days of the fires. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. We fell in love with the Cariboo years ago and dreamed of living here.”
Despite now being under an evacuation alert, Owens says they are planning on staying.
“If we’re not asked to leave, we’re going to be here.”
Thacker suggests people travelling check with the businesses they have reservations with for advice about the current wildfire situation.
She adds that she is “extremely proud” of local business owners and operators in the area.
“They are resourceful, innovative and resilient. During these trying times they are rising above and beyond – providing outstanding levels of service and noble acts – from foregoing revenue to host stranded visitors on extended vacations to housing and feeding the work crews at all hours of the day.”