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Sierra fire puts some holiday tourists in quandary

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm •  Published: August 29, 2013

"I've had $20,000 worth of cancellations in the past few days," said Doug Edwards, who owns the hotel with his wife, Jen. "It's fear-driven. People don't want to drive on a road that looks like Hiroshima or Nagasaki."

Making matters worse for Groveland was Thursday's fire-forced cancellation of the Strawberry Music Festival, which draws 20,000 bluegrass lovers to town every Labor Day weekend.

"We're coming into the crescendo of our season," Edwards said. "Our hotel should be completely full."

The impact is being felt as far north as Lake Tahoe, where thick smoke settled this week in the alpine basin that draws outdoor enthusiast from around the world, affecting everything from hotel reservations to bicycle rentals.

The sky was clear Thursday, but tourists had yet to come back.

"It has dropped off drastically the past week," said Travis McCoy of Camp Richardson Mountain Sports Center on the lake's south shore. His usual rental income of up to $3,000 daily has fallen to less than $500.

Some hotels and motels at South Lake Tahoe were experiencing as much as a 10 percent to 20 percent drop in business, with less of an impact at larger hotel-casino properties, said Carol Chaplin, executive director Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. But she said there were signs of improvement as the holiday weekend neared.

"We've got blue skies. We've got the lake back. It's the best it has been in a week," she said.

Harrah's Lake Tahoe fielded some weekend cancelations, but not an unusually large number, spokesman John Packer said Thursday.

"It's a vast improvement this morning — just a huge improvement — particularly compared to Tuesday when it was one of the thicker days," said Packer, who noted that 6,000 tickets have been sold for a Friday night outdoor concert by Brad Paisley.

Air quality also showed some improvement along the Eastern Sierra just east of Lake Tahoe and in Reno, Nev.

At least 31 wildfires are burning in eight Western states, and only two are contained.

The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and quickly became the sixth-largest California wildfire on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week but it will burn for months.


Associated Press writers Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., and Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nev., contributed to this report.