Mon, Sep 02, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Massive wildfire smothers tourism, affects weddings

Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO

A firefighter and his pump rig stops at the Rim Fire at night near Yosemite National Park, California, in an undated US Forest Service photograph released on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Add fairy tale weddings to the list of casualties from the mammoth wildfire blazing in and around Yosemite National Park.

Hawaii couple Katie Sprouse, 33, and Jamil Folio, 36, spent a year making plans to exchange vows near the scenic park, where they were set to tie the knot before 70 relatives and friends on Saturday night — until the blaze started burning.

The so-called Rim Fire left the pair, who live in Maui, and two other couples with wedding dates at the evacuated Evergreen Lodge scrambling to make other arrangements, according to the Hawaii couple and lodge co-owner Lee Zimmerman.

“I had everything planned six months ago,” said Sprouse, an archeologist. “A week ago Friday, as I was packing to leave, the lodge called me to say it wasn’t going to happen.”

Fallout from the wildfire, the fifth-largest on record in California after charring an area the size of Kansas City, Missouri, also forced the cancellation of the Strawberry Music Festival, a biannual bluegrass jamboree where Sprouse and Folio met two years ago.

On this holiday weekend, one of Yosemite’s busiest periods, thousands of tourists have had to revise their travel plans after the fire crossed into the park and forced road closures at the premier tourist destination. The fire has ravaged already struggling businesses in the area.

Proprietors had been counting on a healthy summer season to carry them through the slow winter months, particularly after an outbreak of the potentially deadly rodent-borne hantavirus scared off tourists last year.

Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said the inferno had burned 6 percent of the landmark’s 302,705 hectares and forced the closure of four of 13 campgrounds.

About 4 million people visit Yosemite each year, with most going during the peak months of June through August. About 620,000 normally visit the park in August alone, but due to the fire, attendance has dropped.

“It’s not super substantial, but it is noticeable,” Cobb said of the drop.

The park’s most popular areas, including Yosemite Valley with the iconic Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations, remain open, Cobb said.

Proprietors who depend on tourism near parts of the park that have been closed off said they were struggling to stay alive.

Chris Loh, 38, who owns the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, estimated his business had fallen 98 percent, forcing him to lay off 45 employees, most of his workforce.

“Last summer was the hantavirus; the summer before was a control fire that got out of control,” he said.

“To have multiple years of having our season shut down early is just devastating,” he added.

Yosemite Highway 120 Chamber of Commerce president James Nagle estimated that tourism to the area had dropped by 25 percent.

“A lot of the impacted businesses were counting on Labor Day weekend to get them through the winter,” he said.

The blaze burned two of five cabins that Eliote Durham manages on the Tuolumne River in the Stanislaus National Forest. It also destroyed a well house, eliminating the water source for the Spinning Wheel Ranch where the vacation rentals are located, she said.

Durham was allowed to go to the ranch and she took photographs of potholes left when trees burned like candles into the roots.

“We’re probably closed for the year,” she said. “It looks like a moonscape.”

The worst part for recovering businesses, Nagle said, is that when tourists do return, they will see a scorched landscape.

This story has been viewed 1045 times.
TOP top