Wildfires Hurt Colorado Resort's Business

Renee Montagne talks to Scott Downs, a retired firefighter and owner of Eagle Fire Lodge in Woodland Park, Colo. He's facing a potentially devastating loss of summer business because of the wildfires in the area.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's being talked about as the most destructive fire season ever in Colorado. The fire we're hearing the most about is near Colorado Springs. Thousands of acres of forest burned, hundreds of homes destroyed and two people dead. Firefighters there say it is now largely contained. To look at what's ahead we reached Scott Downs. He's a retired firefighter who now owns Eagle Fire Lodge in Woodland Park, up the mountain from Colorado Springs.

Scott Downs, thanks for joining us.

SCOTT DOWNS: Oh, you're welcome. Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, you, I gather, have fought a lot of wildfires in the past. What did this one look like to you, because it was - at least it looked that way in photos - like a real inferno?

DOWNS: It was more than that. Try and picture a half a mile wide, 200-foot tall wall of flames moving 30 to 40 miles an hour towards you and 30 to 50 fire engines up against the last houses to protect them, having that roar down on them and having them retreating three and four blocks just to save their lives and then stop and reconnect fire hydrants and try and slow that fire down now that that wall of flame is building not brush. Quite an amazing thing.

MONTAGNE: So you're seeing the end of the fire, which is a good thing. But you may be seeing the beginning of some hard times for you as the owner of a lodge that really needs business in the summer. What is the worst thing that has happened to you and some of the businesses there where you are? What is the worst damage that this fire has done?

DOWNS: Well, at this time of year we are booked 100 percent. So when this fire started we started receiving cancelations. And we know now that for the month of July and the month of August as much as 60 percent of our reservations have been canceled or are in the process of being canceled.

And I know other business owners that are in similar businesses. This will probably turn into a 20 to 25 percent drop on gross revenue. What that really translates to is having to borrow money or come out of pocket to keep things open in the coming year, because that last 20 percent is all the money you make in a year. We lived through this after the Hayman Fire in 2002, and it came close to putting this business out of business. It took three years to recover.

MONTAGNE: Well, I gather that another burden for you has been that Highway 24, the main highway out of Colorado Springs, has been closed.

DOWNS: That is true. Highway 24, as it comes west from Colorado Springs, is a four lane highway that climbs up through Ute Pass and ultimately arrives in Woodland Park and goes on to the west beyond. We are one of the busiest arteries into the interior state. So when they shut that down, the impression that was left was that Woodland Park's on fire, the forest is closed, and none of that could be further from the truth. But it's impossible to stop that tidal wave once it starts. The highway opened, and so people are repatriating the area.

MONTAGNE: So people could drive out to you even now to find a forest that they can visit and enjoy?

DOWNS: My gosh, yes. They - all of the local attractions that people come here for are open. You can camp. You can fish. You can hike. You can mountain bike. And so all of that which is just everywhere here is completely and totally intact.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

DOWNS: Oh, you bet.

MONTAGNE: Scott Downs is a retired Colorado Springs firefighter and owner of Eagle Fire Lodge in Woodland Park.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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