Redfish Lake fire closures scatter tourists

With vacationers left scrambling, businesses in Stanley are suffering.

kterhune@idahostatesman.comJuly 25, 2013 

The 210 Road Fire was about 70 percent contained by Wednesday evening, but rumors about its severity and a lack of camping spots are sending people out of the area and convincing others to skip nearby Stanley altogether, one business owner said.

At the height of tourist season, that’s hurting the town’s bottom line.

Brett Wooley, owner of the Bridge Street Grill, Highway 21 Diner and the Stanley Club, said people are overreacting about the threats to the popular recreation spot.

“Here in town, we never had smoke,” he said. “Skies are clear. It’s just a big lack of people.”

Part of that, he said, is due to campground closures.

The Custer County Sheriff’s Office evacuated the Redfish Lake Lodge, Redfish Lake campgrounds, Buckhorn subdivision and Sunny Gulch campground after the fire started Monday. They remained closed Wednesday, along with Redfish Lake Road and area trails, but the lodge said on its Facebook page late in the day that it would reopen Thursday.

Lodge officials had said Wednesday afternoon that they were just waiting on word from the Forest Service about lifting the evacuation notice.

Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Julie Thomas said that even though the lodge and campsites weren’t in the immediate path of the fire, the evacuation order was necessary to keep travelers safe and to give firefighters room.

“It’s just that they have firefighters in there doing work, and there is still fire,” she said. “It’s just a precaution.”

Wooley said the exodus is proving disastrous for his businesses, five miles north of the fire.

“We’ll be losing thousands a day,” he said Wednesday from a restaurant he described as nearly empty. “The impact is huge.”

Idaho 75 was closed Monday when flames jumped the road, but it reopened Tuesday after firefighters pushed back the advance.

Officials revised their estimate of the size of the fire to 230 acres.

POWER PROBLEMS

Parts of the Sawtooth Valley also lost electricity Tuesday when a tree fell on a power line, Thomas said. Power was restored to the southern part of the valley, but the Buckhorn subdivision remained in the dark Wednesday.

Not everyone with a house in the subdivision lives there year-round.

“Most of those are not primary residences; they’re summer cabins,” Thomas said. “My guess is that they either went home, or they found another place to stay with a friend.”

Campers might have a tougher time finding lodging, she conceded. Redfish Lake draws visitors from all over Idaho, and also is popular with out-of-staters.

Some might have just gone home because of the fire, Thomas said. Others might have headed to an open campground down the road.

Many did it without their tents and other gear, however. Some belongings had to be left behind initially when the order was given to evacuate Redfish Lake campgrounds.

“The sheriff comes in and says, ‘You have to leave,’ ” Thomas said. “They just left it because they didn’t feel they had enough time to load everything up.”

Campers were allowed to retrieve their gear and possessions Wednesday.

A majority of vacationers chose to move on rather than search for another campsite and hope not to get moved again, Wooley said.

Multiple hotels in Stanley told the Statesman they were completely booked even before campers began calling. Many of the evacuees were forced to travel to Sun Valley or farther to find lodging.

In Ketchum, several hotels said they were full, too, but stressed that it was not unusual for rooms to be in demand during the summer months.

One chain hotel in Ketchum received multiple groups of both displaced campers and others who had planned to head to Redfish Lake but were forced to scrap their plans.

Wooley said he hopes that some people traveling to Stanley will choose to amend their vacation plans rather than ditch them entirely.

“There’s a lot of places to go camping around here other than Redfish,” he said.

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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