Peachland is open for business

Fires keeping away visitors, tourists

Mother Nature is delivering a second consecutive economic blow to the Peachland business community this summer.

Following on the heels of the flooding and forest fires elsewhere across the Central Okanagan last year, now local business is taking another hit with the plague of forest fires burning between Peachland and Summerland.

Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin said she wants to get the message out there that Peachland businesses are still open and eager to be patronized.

“Yes, there are fires going on but life goes on. Our business community continues to function at what is a really important time of the year for them. It’s their prime season and some of them have really been struggling this week,” Fortin said.

A visit to downtown Peachland early this afternoon along Beach Avenue revealed very little foot traffic and lots of available parking, as local restaurants and pubs were either half-full or less, while only a minimal amount of tourists appeared to be strolling the lakefront walkways, park and beaches.

Related: Latest updates on Okanagan wildfires

Bruce Klippenstein, the Okanagan Town Crier, was doing his best to drum up interest on a Beach Avenue sidewalk for the nearby second annual Passion 4 Art exhibit and sale at the 50 Plus Activity Centre.

“Today there not much smoke around Peachland compared what the last couple of days has been like,” Klippenstein said.

“It is much improved and wide open for people to come. I feel no smoke at all standing here. I am just blowing smoke.”

Parent Rai, owner of the 91 Restaurant, said there has been a definite slowdown in business since the fires started on Tuesday.

“I was talking to some B&Bers this week who were telling me they are seeing cancellations because people are seeing the news coverage of the fires. They may be thinking it’s not good time to come but everything is fine here right now,” Rai said.

“The lake is still there and the water is warm.”

For Rai, this marks his restaurant’s third year in business and it keeps getting tougher.

Related: Mount Eneas wildfire evacuation order downgraded

“The first year we opened everyone welcomed us with open arms and it was great. Then our second year was really, really tough because of the floods and fires. So starting our third year in March, we were hoping things would be great but with everything that has happened, it can make it tougher to see into the future,” he said.

Rai said his busy season extends from July to about mid-September, then business slows down over the fall, winter and spring. “You hope for the best and go forward, but things appear to be shifting in the Okanagan regarding the weather.”

Fortin said she is trying to be positive on her Facebook posts, encouraging people to visit her community and for local residents to support their businesses.

“As we go through this every year, I can see it is starting to take a toll on people which is why it’s important to pull together and stay strong. While we are concerned about the fires, what is important so far is that no lives have been lost and no homes have been lost,” she said.

While the air in Peachland was clear of smoke today, Fortin said that is a bit of a mixed blessing because it means winds are gusting, which can cause the fires to spread.

Fortin said social media has been a valuable tool to help distribute information and relieve some of the angst people feel about how the fires are being fought.

“I think social media helps a lot but it can also be a hindrance when people put out false information. I saw a report from someone, for instance, that the fire was close to the cemetery, but in reality it was nowhere near the graveyard,” she said.

“So I just try to be positive and wish our neighbours well outside our municipal jurisdiction and those living in Summerland and West Kelowna with what they are dealing with. From my vantage point I can see the Okanagan Mountain Park fire is moving in the opposite direction of people’s homes so that was good to see.

“I know a lot of people have questions about the response to some of these fires but their priority is protecting people and homes, not mountain and trees.”

When the fires across the valley are ultimately doused, she reiterated her earlier call for discussion about a permanent base being established in the Okanagan and equipment and manpower resources shifted from Kamloops to more quickly deal with emerging forest fires.

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