Rock 'n' roll legend and Wood River Valley resident Steve Miller took the stage in Ketchum again this week, only this time it was to present $173,261 that was raised at a music concert in October and through charitable donations to benefit firefighters.
"It's really a privilege to live here, and it's a pleasure to be able to present you guys some dough to be able to spread around to all the firefighters in our community," Miller said at an afternoon press conference at Ketchum City Hall on Monday, Dec. 3.
Area firefighters and public officials gathered to pay tribute to the generosity of the local community during and following the Castle Rock Fire, which charred 48,520 acres of forest surrounding Ketchum and forced cancellation of the resort city's annual Labor Day weekend celebration, called Wagon Days.
At the time, the Castle Rock Fire was the No. 1 priority wildfire in the nation and required 1,700 firefighters over 20 days to suppress. No lives or structures were lost.
Miller was joined on Saturday, Sept. 29, by his band mates as well as singer-songwriter Carole King and Bruce Willis—also area residents—to play a benefit concert at Sun Valley's Festival Meadows. The so-called Kick Ash Bash raised $83,245 and with 6,000 in attendance was the largest concert ever held in the Wood River Valley.
"As you all know, we live in a very special community," said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall before giving Miller a fire-engine-red fire helmet in appreciation of his efforts. "In August, our way of life was challenged."
Sawtooth National Forest Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said he has maintained regular communications with Castle Rock Fire Incident Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tully. The fire commander has reiterated, Nelson said, that never before had she or her fellow firefighters been to a community that stepped up like the Wood River Valley when faced with a wildfire.
"They were doing their job, but they feel like they were treated like royalty," Nelson said.
Sun Valley-Ketchum Volunteer Firefighters Association Vice President Donald Nurge pointed out that 34 local and regional fire departments helped combat the Castle Rock Fire.
"The best way to thank a firefighter is to provide training and better equipment," he said, and that's what the money raised will do.
There were plenty of thank-yous to pass around, including to the Sawtooth Board of Realtors Community Foundation, which set up an account to accept donations.
"From my standpoint, I want to thank the citizens of Blaine County for being the type of people that they are," said Jed Gray, Sawtooth Board of Realtors board president, before presenting a check for more than $60,000.
The funds raised are going to a combination of local and regional firefighters. Of the total amount, $74,000 will go to 25 regional fire departments in the form of $2,000 checks. Closer to home, Blaine County's six fire departments will receive checks for $10,000 each, while the Fairfield and Stanley fire departments will receive $6,000 each. The Friedman Memorial Airport Fire Department will receive $2,000.
Another $30,000 will go to the Wildland Firefighters Association.
After $9,000 worth of T-shirts to be sent to all fire departments, there will be a little more than $10,000 remaining.
"This just goes to show what a strong community of friends and neighbors can accomplish," King said in a prepared statement.
Finally, the two hand-made Castle Rock Fire commemorative guitars that were made by Boise luthier John Bolin will be auctioned on Ebay. The auction will close in early January, Miller said.
"Kudos to the entire community for coming together so quickly in such large numbers to thank all of the firefighters in such a heartfelt way and a special thanks to everyone who worked so hard to put the entire event together," Miller said. "This speaks volumes about the quality and character of all who live and work here."