Ketchum quenches massive wildfire

KETCHUM, Idaho – Firefighters on Monday finally declared victory over a 48,000-acre forest fire whose flames had invaded the slopes of Sun Valley Ski Area’s Bald Mountain, forced the evacuation of 2,500 homes at its base in Ketchum, and dispatched expectant mothers to hospitals in Boise.

Despite an estimated $3.7 billion in assets to protect, no structures were destroyed, nor were there serious injuries.

Started in mid-August by lightning, the fire foreshadowed what may well someday happen adjacent to ski towns in Colorado and elsewhere. There has been almost no precipitation since winter, which itself was dry, with a snowpack that was 47 percent of average in early April. Winters more often than not have been below average in the last decade. The trees – mostly Douglas fir, subalpine fir and aspen – are mature, with patches already dead from a bark beetle epidemic. But critical in creating the big fire were winds, at times strong enough to snap tree trunks.

Last week those winds skittered firebrands 2 miles ahead of the fire onto Bald Mountain. Firefighters were able to stomp them out, but the fire came within 50 feet of the Seattle Ridge Lodge, a mountain-top restaurant. The resort’s snow-making system was used to dampen the vegetation, but the key to forestalling a further advance onto the mountain were several backburns 800 to 1,000 feet wide, which deprived the fire of fuels.

Smoke from the fire reduced visibility at times to 2 miles in the Wood River Valley, where the resorts are located. Joggers were advised against running outdoors, but those that did left footprints in the ash that had fallen. One private gymnasium installed a charcoal air-filter system. St. Luke’s, the local hospital, remained open but encouraged some visitors to go to other hospitals out of harm’s way.

The valley’s economy shuddered. One restaurateur, Keith Perry, said that the fire and smoke quelled business by 25 percent at the start, and it just got worse. A bookstore owner told theIdaho Mountain Express what should have been the best time of year had become the worst.

Ron Le Blanc, the city administrator in Ketchum, estimated that tax collections on retail sales and lodging will be down 50 percent for August.

Some of the downturn was caused by the absence of arriving tourists. But part of the story was of second-home owners decamping or failing to arrive.The Mountain Expresstells of art pieces – Picassos, Renoirs, O’Keeffes and others – being encased and flown out on private planes. “There are a number of collectors in the valley that have paintings and sculpture of significant value, pieces that you would read about in theNew York Times,” said Gail Severn, an art gallery owner.

While the U.S. Forest Service spent upwards of $16 million on the fire – including the use of 19 helicopters, seven bulldozers, and 106 engines – one insurance company dispatched its own crew to apply flame retardant to homes.

Steamboat makes preservation effort

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Among the most famous ski marketing photographs was that of an old barn, near the base of the Steamboat ski area, and two horsemen riding past it in fresh snow, skis slung over their shoulders.

That photo was first shot for a marketing campaign in 1972, but even today speaks to a certain truth about Steamboat Springs. It may have a James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge, and Wal-Mart is the busiest place in town, but at its core, the place has a connection to the ranchlands that still remain.

That’s not to say that the old barn is still out in a big, broad meadow. Steamboat’s barn is now surrounded by shops and other businesses catering to ex-city dwellers who have arrived to carve out a home in the mountains. .

Steamboat officials recently granted an $116,000 contract to stabilize and preserve the barn, which is being preserved as the center of a four-acre park.  The money essentially comes from the developers of the commercial complex, called Steamboat Barn Village, reportedThe Steamboat Pilot.

Meanwhile, city officials are also taking controversial steps to preserve the authenticity of the city’s pre-resort core. The council voted 4-to-2 recently to enact an emergency moratorium that refuses building permits that could significant alter the historic exterior aspect of any building more than 50 years old.

“We intend to prohibit the demolition of historic buildings for a period of time,” said Councilman Towny Anderson, who in his non-elected life is an agent for historic preservation.

One of the dissenting council members, reportedThe Steamboat Pilot, said that when it comes to private property, the owner’s consent in historic preservation is paramount.

The chattering bloggers on the newspaper’s website chewed on the idea with great vigor. “SO, the hysterical-historical society is at it again,” said one. Another wondered if the same effort would be put into preserving portions of the base-village, if they were 50 years old. In fact, some components of the base area are now 35 years old – and plans are being drawn up to raze them.


Town cracks down on hot tubs

CRESTED BUTTE – It looks like Crested Butte will follow in the tracks of neighboring Aspen and Pitkin County with setting a higher hurdle for those who want to install snowmelt systems or outdoor hot tubs.

Since March, the town has had a moratorium on new snowmelt systems. But the proposal expected to be reviewed would require that energy for all new outdoor snowmelt systems, such as for driveways and sidewalks, be produced by a renewable energy system, such as a solar collector, or a ground-source heat pump. As an alternative, a payment-in-lieu fee could be paid to the town, with that money then being used to implement energy-efficient measures in publicly owned facilities.

The ordinance proposes to handle outdoor hot tubs of 64 square feet or more in the same way, reports theCrested Butte News.

The proposed law is modeled upon the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program in Aspen and Pitkin County, which was adopted in 2000. Since then, more than $2 million has been collected as payment-in-lieu fees and used for such things as solar collectors at the local recreation center in Aspen. In the last several years, however, more homebuyers planning “outdoor extravagances” are choosing to create their own renewable energy sources.


Voluntary earth tax launched

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – A new program called “1 Percent for the Tetons” has been launched. Some 51 businesses have agreed to donate 1 percent of their revenues toward the fund. Community members, in turn, are encouraged to steer their purchases toward participating businesses.

This year, the first for the program in Jackson Hole, collected $100,000, which in turn is being distributed to various projects, from installing solar panels at the local library to mapping pathways.

The program in Jackson Hole is patterned after a program called 1 Percent for the Planet. That program was co-founded by Yvon Chouinard, famed rock climber and founder of clothing retailer Patagonia.

At its core, notes theJackson Hole News&Guide, the programs recognize that it is almost impossible to do business without having some kind of environmental impact. The newspaper says the voluntary “earth tax” helps correct a flaw in capitalism, which has a difficult time accounting for what economists called “externalities” such as air and water pollution. “This fouling of the commons frequently occurs without its appropriate cost to businesses and, ultimately, consumers. The earth pays instead.”


Telluride bans downtown offices

TELLURIDE – Telluride has made permanent its ban on new banks, real estate and other offices at ground-floor locations on the town’s main street, called Colorado Avenue. Such a ban had been in temporary effect since December.

In doing so, Telluride follows in the steps of Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs and, most recently, Crested Butte. Park City has taken several hard looks at a similar ban, concluding it would be ill-advised there.

In Telluride, real-estate agent George Harvey isn’t affected directly. His real-estate office is already on the strip, and as such, will be grandfathered in. But he tells theTelluride Daily Planet that he thinks the ban is unnecessary. “If the idea is to promote diversified businesses on main street, this is probably the silliest way to do it that I’ve ever seen.”

He told thePlanet that the town failed to offer proof that it worked elsewhere, and he just doesn’t see it creating more retail business.

Currently, 20 percent of the total frontage on the main street is occupied by real-estate businesses, whereas restaurants have 12 percent and assorted retail makes up 49 percent.

— compiled by Allen Best


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Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale