Not everyone fled Sun Valley, Idaho, when the huge Beaver Creek wildfire threatened the swanky resort area. Many locals remained in the surrounding communities and kept the stores, restaurants and gas stations open.
Now, firefighters are gaining the upper hand. The smoke is clearing. But without the return of vacationers, many locals worry the real disaster is economic – and that one is just beginning.
Matt Teele watches part of the Beaver Creek Fire creep through the trees. He's on a hotshot crew out of Colorado. So he's seen some pretty hairy situations. But Teele hadn't seen a fire get as close to a city as this one got to Hailey.
“Yeah, that's different," he says. "That was my first time driving in and seeing a fire back down to a town, from a mountain side.”
The fast-growing Beaver Creek Fire prompted evacuations of more than 2,000 homes. Cars were backed up for miles in an valley that usually doesn't know the phrase “traffic jam.”
But not everyone joined the exodus.
“There are still many, many thousands of people here in the support structure. I consider myself one of them,” says Steven Garman, a former professional firefighter. He's now a professional pilot and makes a living flying corporate big wigs to the area.
He was under evacuation, but Garman chose to stay at his house to defend it. He sneaked outside the evacuation zone to meet me.
“There're a lot of people in Sun Valley – excuse me, a lot of people in Ketchum, a lot of people in Hailey – that are just worker bees like myself and they don't have a lot of options to go," Garman explains. "You can't just walk away from your house and your job and go live in Boise for three weeks. That's hard on them.”
Many locals stayed with friends until those friends were evacuated, or they left town and came back. But the tourists, and the people who own second homes have been slower to return.
Sage Pressman is a waitress at the Ketchum Grill. She says, “Right now should be like, totally busy in town, should be hustling and bustling with tourists, and just kind of a buzz of aliveness. But it just feels like it's mid-November. But it's August.”
Sun Valley isn't the only tourist town to be hit hard by fires. Earlier this summer in Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel performances due to smoke. Last year, a fire in central Washington threatened to halt the annual Oktoberfest Marathon in Bavarian-themed Leavenworth.
But the Beaver Creek Fire in this part of Idaho completely shut down business during one of the most important months of the year.
Sarah Hedrick owns Iconoclast Books in Ketchum. She's still trying to repay a disaster loan from a big fire here in 2007. Hedrick says news reports have focused on the homes owned by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. But she says they're not the ones who are feeling the brunt of the fire.
“It's really not that same concern. If I lose my bookstores – and I don't mean to a fire, I felt very confident my store was going to be safe. I then lose my house, I then lose my livelihood, and I have four children to support. You know, the reality of a fire has a completely different impact.”
There may be fire nearby, but the outdoor ice rink at the Sun Valley Resort is still open … albeit with only a few people.
Normally, world class skaters would entertain guests here. But this weekend, the resort will host a community event to support the firefighters.
“And I think it's important for us to come together as a community and have events like this – to let people know that we're here. We're back,” says Jack Sibbach, who directs marketing for the resort.
The fundraiser is called Sun Valley on Ice. It's a benefit for people who kept the community safe from the fire.
On the Web:
Sun Valley on Ice: http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/281151?wrKey=316D07393A25072D3202F6206F6AE4E4