Evacuations throughout the Cariboo are taking a toll on local businesses and employees.
“We have 200 to 300 customers on a daily basis coming into our store. We, at the moment, have zero, so it’s very disconcerting,” says Timber Mart 100 Mile/Lone Butte Supply Ltd. president Mike Anderson. “We depend on the locals on a daily basis.”
Timber Mart is located within the evacuation order area in 100 Mile House.
“We are totally shut down. There is zero income.”
Anderson’s situation is similar for many in the area whose businesses may be located within evacuation zones, or whose employees are unable to come to work because they themselves have been evacuated.
“It’s devastating, that’s what I can say. I’m a business man. I understand exactly what it is,” says 100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall.
“The economic impact is going to be huge and for some of the small businesses like ourselves it’s disastrous. It’s just going to be unbelievable recovering from this.”
On the bright side, all of the buildings in 100 Mile House, including the mills, remain intact.
The impact of the wildfire on people who have lost their homes will affect everyone, says Campsall.
“The economics is important but all the same our community is very lucky. We need to be very thankful”
Still, one week after the Gustafsen fire started, things are not over yet.
“I’ve just got to pray that things keep going the way they’ve been going,” says Campsall. “We know in 15 minutes how things could change.”
Anderson says his top priority is his employees’ welfare. The loss of income in his store affects his ability to continue to pay his employees.
He says when he contacted his insurer, the response he got back was less than helpful.
“The only response I’ve had is I will not get any confirmation until after the event is over,” he says. “I know if we were burnt out we would have full coverage but if there is just a closure and no damage, I don’t know.”
He says he was told he won’t hear back from the company until official damage reports are released.
Luckily, he says, payroll was completed before the evacuation order happened, so there will be another ten days before he would expect to pay his employees.
Despite this, he’s offered a $1,000 loan, per employee, to be distributed electronically in the next week, repayable over the next six months.
It’s not just Timber Mart employees that are affected by the loss of income, however, and not all employers are able to offer loans to their employees.
For those out of work due to the wildfires, Service Canada is offering Employment Insurance benefits to those unable to make it into work.
On their website Service Canada encourages workers to apply as soon as possible for EI benefits, online or in person using the reference code available on the landing page. People registering will need their Social Insurance Number, a mailing address where they are staying, and a residential address.
Additionally, the South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce issued a release on July 12 looking forward after the fires.
“With the survival of our resources Norbord OSB and West Fraser Sawmill, plus our ranches, we will thrive in the coming months and years with the spirit of our communities,” it said.
“In the coming days there will be a need for support for the more vulnerable citizens of our community. There will also be the need to support our local businesses, get them back on track and allow them to support the many people they employ in our great town.”
With respect to that, the Chamber says that with the support of the BC Chamber of Commerce it will be looking into ways for businesses to receive education about “supporting their employees, rebounding from loss revenues and decisions they may have to make.
In the meantime businesses are making do.
Anderson says he and his wife Chris offered up their home to employees and any evacuees needing a place to stay and has offered to help supply the District of 100 Mile House or BC Wildfire and local emergency food banks should they need any supplies.
Still, he says, the moment they hear they able to go back to work, they will.
“The minute we are open, I will be contacting everyone to get back to work.” he says. “What I said to my employees is that their major role comes after we return. That our customers, family and friends will be looking to us to get their lives back to normal.
“It’s making sure that the staff are taken care of and then secondly that they can can start to help take care of the town.”