Ottawa Valley business owners navigate evacuation orders, thick smoke at outset of tourist season

wildfire Centennial Lake
Photo of Big Island, where a wildfire began in June, taken by Steve Main, owner of The Eagle's Rest Cabin and Boat Rentals.

Businesses in the Ottawa Valley are doing what they can as a wildfire continues to burn about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa at Centennial Lake, forcing evacuations and filling the air with smoke.

Steve Main is the owner of The Eagle’s Rest Cabin and Boat Rentals in Greater Madawaska, less than four kilometres from the wildfire. He said the fire is “still burning,” and some evacuated residents have moved into his cabins temporarily.

The Eagle’s Rest has not been evacuated, but Main, who lives on the property, said he is under an evacuation advisory and is “ready to go” if the fire spreads.

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

Main watched the water bombers and fire department in action from his pontoon boat on the lake on Monday evening.

The wildfire broke out on Big Island on Sunday. Photo by local resident Paul Sartori

“Really, it’s just a small area of Centennial Lake that is affected by the fire,” he explained. “There’s only a very small portion that’s accessible by road, so there’s a small part of it being evacuated.”

The beginning of June is “quiet time, as far as cabin rentals are concerned,” he said, but, starting next week, his five cabins are fully booked until late September. While he has not received any cancellations, he is “absolutely concerned” about the impact the wildfire and smoke might have on his business and the community.

“The air quality is so poor, I’m staying in the house right now,” he said. “It’s not just this fire, it’s related to all the fires in the area, but this immediate fire has taken a lot of our day and it’s not a fun situation.”

One of the cabins at The Eagle’s Rest is available for rent year-round, but Main said he relies heavily on summer tourism traffic, 70 per cent of which is return customers.

The small town of Matawatchan, nearer the fire, has more full-time residents, he said, so he is concerned for the community. In the 20 years that he has owned and operated The Eagle’s Rest, he said he has “never seen this.”

Due to a powerful windstorm in May 2022, there are plenty of fallen trees and brush in the area that “has had a year to dry” and Main said he worries it has “been fuel for the fire.”

Meanwhile, Snider’s Tent and Trailer Park at 271 Airds Lake Rd. is under an evacuation order, but owner Gail Holtzhauer is still manning the phones. Her home is nearby, but just far enough away that she has not been told to evacuate, she said.

All the seasonal campers at the park have been evacuated, she said, and the fire department has flooded into the area.

The fire department has flooded the area, local business owners say, as smoke continues to fill the air. Photo by Steve Main

About 80 kilometres northeast of the wildfire, businesses in Arnprior are seeing the impacts. Angie MacCrae, owner of home goods store KOTi28 on John Street, said the “streets are bare” and that Arnprior is a “ghost town.”

MacCrae said she usually keeps the shop doors open to welcome walk-in customers, but today she has shut all doors and windows to “keep the scent of smoke out as much as possible.”

Navigating the poor air quality — and the impact it might have on her business and customers — is “uncharted territory,” said MacCrae.

“The air quality concerns are unknown, I guess … we don’t know because we’ve never faced anything like this before,” she said. “How will retail be impacted by this phenomenon we’re enduring?”

This will be KOTi28’s first summer open and MacCrae said she has been looking forward to the tourist season, but if people remain indoors due to the air quality, it will have lasting impacts, she said. 

“Could this go on for days, for weeks? It would be concerning at this time of year for retail,” MacCrae said. “We’re embarking on our upswing sales months, but I feel like there is so much unknown. I don’t know where this is going to go, we’ve never had anything like this.”

Areas put under an evacuation order include Black Mountain Estates, Little Bay Lane, Airds Lake Road behind Snider’s Tent and Trailer Park and Snider’s Lane. On Monday afternoon, the evacuation order was extended for 48 hours.

In an update Tuesday afternoon, the Greater Madawaska Township said no further evacuation orders are expected. 

“It remains critical that residents and bystanders remain clear of the scene to allow our teams to do the work they need,” said the township.

Get our email updates

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.