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Fire hazard prompts backcountry closures, caution in coastal region

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According to Munro, exemptions were given in some cases when there was the potential for a large economic or environmental impact, but can be revoked at any time. Many of the individuals and companies applying for exemptions didn’t get it.

Eric Sinclair of Cougar Mountain Wilderness Adventures said business was down about 50 per cent this long weekend as a result of the perception in town and among visitors that all businesses were closed.

Cougar Mountain, Whistler ATV and Whistler Outdoor Adventure received exemptions on Saturday afternoon, after equipping their machines with axes and fire extinguishers.

"We understand the ban and the need for it, but there’s a lot of misinformation out there right now," said Sinclair. "Now we’re just doing everything we can to get the proper word out that while public access is closed, companies like Cougar Mountain are still open for business."

In addition to equipping tours with equipment to fight fires, Sinclair says the company has a fire suppression plan in place, which was a factor in getting an exemption.

"We really took a big hit because of this. People were turning away business from us because they really thought we were closed," he said.

"We support the ban one hundred per cent – if we did have a fire, there’s no way to control it. That was a bigger issue than closing us for a weekend, so I can see where the government was coming from."

Sinclair said the Forest Ministry was understaffed, which is part of the reason there was so much confusion after the ban. Still, he says they moved fast to grant Cougar Mountain its exemption.

Whistler-Blackcomb also worked hard to get the word out that it was still in operation, and spokesmen say the number of visitors over the weekend exceeded their expectations.

According to Stuart Rempel, the vice president of sales and marketing for Whistler-Blackcomb, the mountains have 22 million gallons of water collected in reservoirs, and the snowmaking guns are ready to go if needed.

"We have fire suppression crews ready to go if needed and we are very serious about the fire situation," said Rempel. "Fire fighting resources (In B.C.) are stretched very thin all over right now, whereas our resources are very focused."

All employees and trucks are ready to fight fires if needed, and Whistler-Blackcomb has a helicopter fly-over before nightfall every day to see if there are any problems.

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