Whistler opens its arms to Kelowna fire evacuees 

Hotels offering free accommodation for Okanagan residents

Dave Coombs needed to escape.

For the last week he and his family have watched in horror as the Kelowna wild fire consumed much of their Upland neighbourhood.

And as one of the few families whose home was spared they had consoled friends and neighbours who weren’t so lucky.

"In Kelowna it is all consuming," said Coombs.

"Everywhere you go it is all people are talking about. It is very smoky so we just thought this was a great opportunity to get the kids out of there.

"They are holding up well but it is pretty tense. A lot of their friends have lost their homes and it is very, very trying times around Kelowna right now."

Wednesday Coombs, wife Wendy, 14-year-old Rachel, and Lanny, 12, checked into Whistler’s Pan Pacific resort, one of the first Kelowna evacuee families to take the resort up on its offer this week to let fire-fleeing families stay here for free.

"We want to thank-you for this generous offer," said Coombs.

"And I think there will be a lot more people from Kelowna who will take you up on it."

"It has been brutal in Kelowna. Within five minutes there were 100 homes gone in our neighbourhod."

Coombs also owns a golf course in Kamloops which has been seriously affected by the wildfires in that region. Through a golf tournament he has already raised $10,000 for the fire effort.

But the impact on Coombs is more than just personal. He is president of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.

Until recently the association was celebrating the fact that they were about the only region of B.C. doing well after a year-long series of national and international catastrophes for tourism, including SARS, mad cow, the war in Iraq and terrorist attacks.

Now the Okanagan is reeling with its own disaster.

"We are going to have some work to do after the fact, there is no doubt," said Coombs.

"Tourism, as we know, won’t change in the region and we have to let people know that. But right now it is not the best place to be."

But there is a silver lining said Coombs.

"If there is anything good to come out of these things I think it is that the community does come together," he said.

"We met a complete stranger when we went to check in as evacuees and they took our cat.

"We fully expect to have somebody in our home when we get back. We will definitely be opening our doors and you are seeing that across the board."


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