Friday, August 16, 2013

Business owners lament timing of fire

For many in Ketchum, late August is a peak period for sales

Express Staff Writer

The Beaver Creek Fire burns on both sides of Warm Springs Road west of Ketchum earlier this week. Photo by Willy Cook

    A handful of local business owners say the Beaver Creek Fire is unmercifully competing for attention, conjuring memories of the 2007 Castle Rock disaster from which many are still attempting to recover.
    Keith Perry, owner of Perry’s restaurant in Ketchum, said he made $1,500 less on Wednesday compared to Wednesday, Aug. 7. This week, he noted, should have been his busiest of the year.
    “It’s a disaster economically,” he said. “If people have an option, they’re going elsewhere. Everybody will take a huge hit if this continues.”
    Erik Vorm, who runs the Cornerstone Bar and Grill in Ketchum, echoed the sentiment.
    “We’re getting a fair amount of cancellations,” he said. “We’ve had to cancel catered events that were outdoors as well.”
    Vorm worried aloud about tourism in general in the Sun Valley area.
    “It makes me sad that the fire is driving people away. It makes them think about not coming because it’s been two years running now where the smoke hits the valley at the same time. So, now they’re starting to think, ‘You don’t go to Sun Valley in August,’” he said.
    On Thursday, Sun Valley Resort announced that it closed the Bald Mountain lifts because of the smoke in the air, with plans to reassess on Friday. Numerous outdoor-enhanced entertainment offerings from a Josh Ritter concert to the Sun Valley Summer Symphony concert Thursday were either canceled or routed to indoor venues.
    Iconoclast Books owner Sarah Hedrick was busily preparing for the upcoming Sun Valley Writers’ Conference and for author Lynne Hanson’s promotional evening while stressing about the impact of the fires.
    “This is usually our best couple of weeks of the year, the one that makes it all work,” she said, trying to be optimistic. “But I can’t take another Castle Rock.”
Realtor Jan Armstrong said short-term effects will be felt immediately, but those will mellow as the public sees the fire being handled wisely.
“I think that now it’s coming into the old burn [from] the Castle Rock it doesn’t have the big trees to burn anymore. It only has underbrush, and that’s going to help them a great deal to keep it from going west when it gets that far north. I think they’ll get a handle on it, I truly do.”
    The Idaho Mountain Real Estate agent projected that the recent wildfires could have ramifications for a real estate industry like this that is largely reliant on second-home owners.
    “I think the fire could impact some buying and selling,” she said. “People were firmer on their price before.”
    Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall was melancholy in regards to the fire.
    “In three of the last six years, our economy has been shut down because of the smoking fire,” he said. “As soon as the economy starts to thrive, it feels like we just shut down.”
    Hall said he’s fielded several concerned phone calls, some from people letting him know of their canceled plans to visit Sun Valley and Ketchum.
     Airport Manager Rick Baird said that no flights could land at Friedman Memorial Airport on Wednesday until after 11:30 a.m. due to limited air visibility. The low air visibility on Wednesday prevented a round-trip Horizon flight to Seattle from operating out of Friedman.
    But, by 1 p.m. Thursday, all scheduled departures and arrivals were back on plan. Peter Kramer, airport operations chief, said the airport “has not closed at all.”
    Caroline Nystrom, executive director of the Hospice of Wood River Valley in Ketchum, said the fire has required extra special care of her 39 patients.
    “As we make our nursing visits to these people in their homes, we’re reminding them to keep their doors and windows closed,” she said. “We’re checking their oxygen levels and reassuring them we have a nurse on call 24 hours a day. We are also watching the sites closely in case we have to evacuate patients.
    “A lot of people are using morphine, and we can’t have them in a community shelter. We have to have them in a controlled environment.”
    In spite of the challenges that come with extinguishing the fire, Hall still remains positive.
    “I’m optimistic the weather will help soon. We’re in good hands with our incident management team,” he said.

Eric Avissar:

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