Wildfires ravage Canada’s economy, hitting tourism, businesses hard


Raging wildfires in Canada have unleashed havoc on its economy, with far-reaching consequences. One such story of resilience comes from Joanna Schlosser, who initially sought refuge at a winery during the fire’s advance.

However, she now grapples with the aftermath, including a severe blow to tourism and the wider business landscape, adversely affecting Canada’s economic stability.

The terrifying ordeal began when a ferocious inferno crossed Okanagan Lake and threatened her Kelowna residence. A sudden evacuation order left her family of five with just minutes to flee their home. They, along with other evacuees, sought shelter at Quails’ Gate winery for a harrowing two weeks, witnessing the destruction of approximately 200 homes in the valley.

Joanna Schlosser shared her thoughts, saying, “Your home is your biggest investment, and with only five minutes to get out, you start to reel about things you left behind that you might not ever see again.” She also expressed concerns about the ongoing grape harvest.

Remarkably, none of the 222 wineries in the region reported direct fire damage, but they suffered substantial losses due to a significant decline in tourist visits during the peak month of August. Kelowna’s airport and primary highway temporarily closed, forcing the cancellation of tasting tours, weddings, and other events at wineries.

Schlosser lamented, “We’re now facing a pretty devastating season in terms of winery traffic and sales.”

The impact of these wildfires extends far beyond Kelowna, as more than 15 million hectares (37 million acres) have been scorched across Canada, displacing 200,000 people. Stephen Brown of Capital Economics noted that forest fires typically don’t have a significant impact on the Canadian economy. However, this year, he suggested, “with the fires so widespread, we are seeing more of an impact than usual.”

“Even though the wildfires are record-setting, they’re happening in more remote areas with less of an implication for large population or economic centers or transportation corridors — things that would cut off supply lines,” explained Tony Stillo at Oxford Economics, offering a glimmer of relief amid the turmoil.

Despite these challenges, disruptions have been relatively short-lived. However, Oxford Economics warned in a June report that wildfires could still dent Canada’s economic growth this year by as much as 0.3 to 0.6 percentage points.

The financial strain extends to firefighting costs, with Ottawa estimating an annual expenditure of Can$1 billion (US$737 million). The Canadian Climate Institute warns that climate impacts, including more extensive and frequent fires, could halve Canada’s projected economic growth in the coming years, with annual losses from disasters forecasted to reach Can$15.4 billion by 2030.

Insurance losses have surged fivefold since 2009, exceeding Can$2 billion annually, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Jason Clark from the bureau expressed concern over the increasing frequency of catastrophic events, stressing the need for better preparedness.

As the fires continue to rage, the Canadian economy faces an uphill battle in recovering from this unprecedented disaster. Meanwhile, at Quails’ Gate and other wineries, the resilient spirit persists, with efforts to mitigate the impact of smoke on grapes, even if it adds an unexpected twist to the terroir of their wines.

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