Less than half of hard-hit Interior businesses applied for wildfire recovery funds, report says

Only 40 per cent of businesses affected by wildfires in the Cache Creek area of B.C.'s souther Interior have applied for funds to help them recover. 

A report from the Thompson Nicola Regional District says 457 out of 492 businesses in the area — including Cache Creek, Ashcroft and Clearwater — told researchers they were affected by the 2017 wildfires either financially or physically.

Yet only about 40 per cent of those impacted are using wildfire recovery programs offered by the Canadian Red Cross, the provincial government and other agencies, although most of them are eligible for some funding. The Thompson Nicola Regional District chalks that up to a change in Red Cross funding rules that left people confused about eligibility.

Colin O'Leary, head of the district's business recovery initiative, said he wants to promote those programs to businesses in the district.

"We're looking at provisions to help reduce red tape and help businesses get back on their feet as fast as possible," he said.

The report notes that the Red Cross Phase 2 funding of up to $20,000 could cover most of the financial losses for nearly half of of the region's businesses.

In addition, the regional district is working on its own plan for businesses to be prepared for emergency situations like the wildfires, in order to minimize loss. 

 Millions of dollars in revenue lost

More than $21 million in business revenue was lost in the region according to the report.

"We didn't expect the numbers would be as significant as they were in terms of the economic loss," said Thompson Nicola Regional District spokesperson Debbie Sell.

That financial loss caused layoffs and some business owners considered shutting down,  O'Leary said

O'Leary said the lack of tourism during the summer months played a large role.

The wildfires made headlines around the world which discouraged tourists from visiting B.C.'s Interior, he said. 

"There was a lot of feeling of miscommunication in the media ... and hype that all of B.C. was burning."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops