While most of the smoke cleared out of the valley shortly after Labor Day, it will be a number of months yet before retailers and other businesses relying on customer traffic recover from the financial impact brought on by the 75-square-mile Castle Rock Fire in Idaho that started on Aug. 16.
In an email to fellow Grassroots Outdoor Alliance members on Aug. 30, Elephant's Perch co-owner Bob Rosso wrote, "Last night, the top of the ski mountain 'Baldy' looked like Mt. Vesuvius erupting 20,000 plus feet into the sky. This morning, the smoke is chokingly thick, but the wind tends to blow it out. (See photo to the right provided by Blair Clark of Smith Optics). We have stayed open from 11 to 5, and there are people who seem to appreciate the service. The entire town is like a military lock-down zone, so business is certainly taking a big hit, especially with the Labor Day weekend festivities all cancelled."
It was the cancellation of Sun Valley's Western-themed Wagon Days Celebration that caused the most long-term financial trauma for businesses, as many area businesses rely on the money from the last big influx of tourists who pack hotels, restaurants and shops to tide them over until ski season arrives -- as many as 15,000 visitors by Sturtevant's owner Rob Santa's count.
The big draw of the Wagon Days Celebration is the Big Hitch Parade, which Santa told SNEWS® is the largest horse-drawn parade in the world.
"Fire crews are still in town doing mop up," Santa told us on Sept. 11. "The Ketchum/Sun Valley area has lost many millions of dollars in overall revenue, the scope of which won't be known for some time.
"We lost an estimated couple hundred grand in lost sales that kicked in around the 21st of August and went through after Labor Day," added Santa.
We also spoke with Kate Rosso, co-owner of Elephant's Perch, who, like Santa, expressed gratitude and relief that no lives or structures were lost in a fire that while bad, could have been so much worse.
"We did half the business we normally do over the Labor Day weekend," said Rosso. "Overall, we are down about $150,000 and sales are off about a grand a day right now on sales we really can't make up going through October."
However, Rosso was feeling genuinely upbeat all things considered, and very grateful for the outreach many suppliers have shown her store.
"We actually had suppliers begin to contact us during the fire, for shipments we were receiving in late August, offering to help us out with extending terms and dating," Rosso told us.
Echoing Rosso's optimism, Santa added, "We are recovering rapidly now. In fact, in the long-term good thing is the fire cleaned up decades of debris in the forest. We are going to have great morel mushroom hunting in a year or two, and this season much more out-of-bounds skiing on the backside of Baldy.
"You can already drive into Ketchum and not know anything had happened at all as it is all tucked away behind the mountains and the playground remains intact," he added.
Both Rosso and Santa noted that already folks are out on trails that were locked down during the fire just weeks ago. And, if the nearby Fischer Creek fire two years ago is any indication of trends, the area hit by the Castle Rock flames will come back quickly.
"The Fischer Creek area suffered a fire two years ago and is in better shape than ever with spectacular wildflowers and we will see the same thing on the outskirts of Ketchum to the west. All is good, considering," said Santa.