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'Too hot': British Columbians flock to hotels for air conditioning

BC Hotel Association says occupancy in some parts of the province is 100 per cent.
fanonman
British Columbians are doing everything to beat the heat.

Many British Columbians who don't have air conditioning in their home are looking to hotels for respite.

That is, if they're lucky enough to find a room or can afford it.

Bryan Pilbeam, chair of the BC Hotel Association, tells Glacier Media a number of properties on Vancouver Island, Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley are completely sold out.

"Just a week ago, they were at 20 per cent occupancy," he says, noting all markets across the province have seen a demand in pet-friendly units. "People are booking one night at a time, seeing how they manage."

Temperature records continue to fall across B.C., including dozens in the last 24 hours. Lytton broke the all-time national record (twice), with the mercury reaching 47.9 C Monday afternoon. According to Environment Canada, all-time records were set in places like Kamloops (45.8 C), Kelowna (42.9 C) and Victoria (at the inner harbour, it hit 39.8 C). In the Lower Mainland, many daily records were set.

Flora Arias Molina of Dawson Creek has been trying to manage the heat wave in her mobile home. She's made multiple calls to track down an AC unit.

"I phoned Grande Prairie, Dawson Creek, Prince George, Fort St. John. Not one air conditioner. Facebook Marketplace, people are asking for thousands of dollars for a product that costs maybe $300," she says.

On Monday, Molina started feeling nauseous. Her 19-year-old daughter started feeling dizzy too. The pair hadn't been sleeping or eating. At one point, Molina tried to cool off outside at 3 a.m. in the morning. 

"I told my daughter, 'This is enough.'" 

Molina booked a room at the Comfort Inn in Dawson Creek for $240 for two nights. Ramses, her chihuahua, was able to tag along as well.

"[The dog] was stretched on the bed with the fan... but it was too hot." 

Jaylynn Byassee, a Port Moody resident, was able to secure two rooms in nearby Port Coquitlam for her family of five.

Unfortunately, they weren't able to bring their dog with them as the hotel doesn't allow it, but they're close enough to check in on him three to four times a day. They also purchased a cooling jacket and bandana for their furry companion. 

"I was born and raised in Texas. I definitely know heat but we wouldn't think of existing in Texas without air conditioning," Byassee says with a laugh. "It's crazy."

Not everyone can afford to go to a hotel.

For Pam Thomas, who lives on the 10th floor of a southwest-facing apartment in Vancouver's River District, her go-to method to stay cool has been moving as little as possible, laying in front of the fan and drinking a lot of water. Her less-than-five-year-old building doesn't have AC.

"Just going to the kitchen to get a big glass of water, fill it with ice, then top it with water and put it on the table beside my bed... honestly, 10 minutes later, the ice is gone," Thomas explains, adding cold showers don't do much. "By the time you're out [of the shower], you're dry and sweating again."

To keep things cool, she doesn't turn her oven on to cook.

"I live off fruit and celery."

Thomas says it's important people check in on their elderly neighbours, especially if they live in a high-rise.

"There are elderly people in my building. Most high-rises, people don't know who their neighbours are and that's a really huge concern."

B.C.'s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said Tuesday the service had received a massive uptick in reports of death where extreme heat was thought to play a factor.

From Friday to Monday, 233 deaths were reported, a 79 per cent increase from the 130 deaths the BC Coroners Service receives over a normal four-day period. That number is expected to increase as more data rolls in, says Lapointe.

Paul Ryan lives in a brand new rental building on the edge of Nanaimo, on the top floor of the southwest corner. No air conditioning was installed in his building either. 

The heat in the apartment was just "unbearable" Sunday night, what he calls "a dreadful day." The kitchen countertops were so hot you could fry an egg on them, he says. Some of his neighbours were sleeping in their cars with the AC on.

Ryan went online and booked a hotel for two nights in Port Hardy, thinking it would kill two birds with one stone: escape from the heat and visit a place he and his partner had never been to before. 

Unfortunately, 20 minutes before they arrived in Port Hardy on Monday, the power went out. After receiving their refund, the pair turned around with hopes of getting a hotel in Campbell River or Comox. Sadly, everything was booked. 

"We did 1,000 kilometres in a day and went home and had a sweltering night, not able to sleep," Ryan says. "This is the new norm. [It's] scary."

Maple Ridge resident Namrata Thandi and her husband have been unsuccessful in buying an AC unit and booking a hotel room. 

"There was absolutely nothing. When I looked up on booking.com, only place was somewhere in Whistler," she says. 

The family of five is currently sleeping in the living room, with fans blowing in different directions. To keep the house cool, Thandi took a water hose to the pavement and to the exterior of her home. She spent 40 minutes wetting everything down, something she says has worked. Her kids, meanwhile, have been enjoying freezies and ice cream.

Vancouver's Jasim Khan also couldn't find a room (one that was cat-friendly). Everything was either too expensive or unavailable. 

"It's been absolutely atrocious," Khan says of the heat. "We've been looking for AC for a week and a half, before the heat wave even began. We weren't able to find any." 

Khan has been surviving by using a $25 Walmart fan and keeping windows closed.

"I have not slept in three nights." 

HOTEL LABOUR SHORTAGE

Pilbeam says the biggest challenge for hotels right now is finding staff. 

"In a lot of hotels, people aren't able to open the full number of rooms because there aren't enough house keepers. In others, restaurants are restricted because there aren't enough servers and cooks," he tells Glacier Media. "Hoteliers and operators are doing everything they can to have everything open."

Addressing the labour problem is "front and centre" for the province's hotel association, he says, noting hotel operators will have to get creative. 

"We're also seeing a lot of employees who are not wanting to work full-time, and so if they are wanting to work part-time, maybe it's finding ways to do things differently: having more part-time jobs than full-time, reaching out to universities and graduates and people who may have left the industry that are missing it and want to come back," Pilbeam explains.

Overall, people are excited to begin travelling again, he says.