Bald Mountain fire forced closure of Highway 20 from Williams Lake to Bella Coola. (BC Wildfire Service)

Financial support offered to fire-affected businesses

$1,500 emergency grants also for aboriginal communities, non-profits

The B.C. government is offering emergency grants of $1,500 for eligible small businesses affected by wildfires in the B.C. Interior.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced Monday the grants will be administered through the Red Cross, which has also distributed $600 payments to individuals and families forced from their homes by fires. The grants will also be available to aboriginal communities and non-profits affected by fires and highway closures.

Businesses and organizations along Highway 20, evacuation areas on Highway 97 south of Prince George, Highway 26 to Barkerville and the eastern Cariboo Regional District communities of Horsefly and Likely.

The eligibility will be reviewed and adjusted as conditions change, but the government wants to get the program going as soon as possible, Donaldson said.

Applications are open today and online application forms are available here. Information on the program and links are also available at www.redcross.ca and the Red Cross has a small business phone helpline at 1-855-999-3345. Phone service is available Monday to Friday between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Eligible organizations are those with 50 employers or fewer, have a income of less than $250,000 per year, have been in operation on or before July 7, 2017 and have resumed operations or are intending to restart as soon as possible.

“We know that hundreds of small businesses in rural B.C. have been adversely impacted by wildfire activity and this initial support is designed to give these businesses some assistance as they resume operations again,” said Jobs Minister Bruce Ralston.

Rain across some of the fire-affected regions helped slow down fires, but B.C. Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said they were showers and the effect is temporary.

“We’re likely going to see conditions rebound pretty quickly here,” Skrepnek said.

Dr. Bonnie Henry of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said that the smoke that has hung over some communities for the past month has led to an increase in medical visits from people with chronic respiratory conditions, it is not expected to have long-term impacts.

“We still consider even the month to be relatively short term exposure,” Henry said. “We don’t expect long-term health effects as you would see with long-term exposure to air pollution like you would see in a city like Beijing.”

The latest estimate in area burned by the more than 1,000 wildfires reported since April 1 is 7,290 square kilometres, an area more than twice the size of Metro Vancouver. By that measure it is the second largest fire season on record for B.C., with more than 8,500 square kilometres burned in 1958.

Costs to date are $292 million, with 4,000 people working on the fire control effort.

Skrepnek said many seasonal firefighters and support workers are preparing to return to school or work after the Labour Day weekend, and plans are underway to replace them if necessary. Fire department dispatchers and military personnel are being recruited, he said.

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