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Tourists flock to Colo. amid worries about state of summer blazes

By Jordyn Dahl Herald staff writer

Fires have erupted all over Colorado this month during the peak of its tourism season.

The Weber Fire is about 30 miles away, but smoke could be seen in Durango for the fire’s first few days, and that caused some tourists to cancel their vacations and call businesses inquiring about the proximity of the blaze.

Businesses also say those not from Colorado don’t understand where all the fires are and think Durango is close to the Front Range, where the Waldo Canyon Fire has burned 18,500 acres and 346 homes.

“We’ve had quite a few cancellations from people because of the smoke,” said Kelly Scott, manager of the Durango Riverside Resort. “A lot of people don’t understand how far away (the fires) are, and they are concerned about fires in the Denver area thinking it’s in our backyard.”

The Durango Chamber of Commerce has received about two to four phone calls an hour from people asking about the fires and smoke, said Jack Llewellyn, the chamber’s executive director.

The city is trying to send the message that it is “business as usual,” Llewellyn said.

Anne Klein, spokeswoman for the Durango Area Tourism Office, echoed Llewellyn, saying Durango is still open for tourism and places such as Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort and Vallecito Lake are operating as normal.

The office has been directing inquiries about smoke to the San Juan Basin Health Department, Klein said.

For some, it has been businesses as usual.

The DoubleTree Hotel has not received any cancellations, General Manager Peter Marshall said.

“Our pace is on target. We haven’t seen any effect so far, except for a few phone calls inquiring about impact to the area,” he said.

Eric Kiesel, owner of Half Price Tees, said he hasn’t noticed a change in visitation.

Mesa Verde National Park – which is about seven miles west of the Weber Fire, according to its website – has not seen a decrease in visitors and has remained open throughout the fire, said spokeswoman Betty Lieurance.

Some of the campgrounds have not been so fortunate.

The Durango KOA Campground has had about five cancellations a day, said owner Jay Coates.

“People ask about smoke,” he said. “The proximity to fires is probably a big concern.”

The Lightner Creek Campground – near the Lightner Creek Fire that has burned 85 acres and is 40 percent contained – paints a different picture.

“The campground is open, and the phone is ringing steadily with folks wanting to make new reservations,” owner Cheryl Amorelli said in an email.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad also says it has seen good passenger numbers, though it is always prepared for a fire.

The train has two full water wagons traveling behind each train and a helicopter is on standby that can drop water should something happen, said Paul Schranck, general operations manager for the train.

The city is taking precautions against starting other fires and has canceled this year’s annual fireworks display, along with Bayfield, Vallecito and Silverton.

La Plata County has placed restrictions on open burning within the county, and Durango currently prohibits open burning within city limits.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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