Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Local tourism industry weathers the firestorm

Sun Valley Co. readies to protect most vital asset

Express Staff Writer

As fire crews battle the Castle Rock Fire just a few peaks away from Ketchum, the tourism industry in the valley is scrambling to get information out to visitors.

"We're providing information all the time," said Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley Co. director of sales marketing and public relations. "We've had a few reservations call asking about the status of the fire and what's closed."

Sibbach said at present Bald Mountain is the only resort amenity that is closed and will remain so until further notice from the U.S Forest Service.

"We were given the go-ahead to reopen Brass Ranch and Pete Lane's down at River Run on Tuesday," Sibbach said.

As fire dances around Bald Mountain, arguably the area's most vital economic resource, Sun Valley Co. has prepared for a potential battle.

"Hopefully, Baldy is out of danger," Sibbach said. "We have three fire specialists here from Sinclair Oil. They are specialists in fighting fire around oil refineries and drills and have been providing expertise on how to fight a potential wildfire."

Sinclair Oil Corp. is owned by Earl Holding, who also owns Sun Valley Co.

Sibbach said as far as Bald Mountain goes, our main concern is the buildings—Warm Springs Lodge, Lookout, Roundhouse, Seattle Ridge Lodge and River Run Lodge, and the lifts. The lifts are extremely expensive and "are made of metal. Metal and heat don't go well together," Sibbach said.

The Sinclair specialists, the Bald Mountain crew and Sun Valley Co. employees have been working closely with firefighters.

"We have donated space at River Run and provided access to our day lodges to the firefighters," Sibbach said.

Sun Valley Co. has taken the pre-emptive measures of clearing trees and shrubs away from the Lloyd House and Puchner House on the Warm Springs side of Baldy. In addition, on-mountain crews have filled the pipes that normally send water up the mountain for snowmaking operations. Sibbach said the snow guns would most likely be used to wet down grass and trees and would not be very effective in actual fire-fighting operations.

Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, said her organization, too, is in the process of disseminating information to visitors in the area and to potential travelers.

"The number of people with questions and concerns has been minor," Waller said. "Most have revolved around air quality and have come from people with real health problems. But the governments in the area, the firefighters, both local and the ones from out of town that are here to help, and the media have all done a great job."

Waller went on to say that it is a fine line "where we want to let people know we're open for business but at the same time we have a real situation up here. And we have Wagon Days, one of our biggest events of the year, coming up at the end of the month."

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