Rim Fire Drives Away Business From Iron Door Saloon

The wildfire near Yosemite National Park has scorched more than 180,000 acres since it erupted on Aug. 17. Renee Montagne talks to Corinna Loh, whose family owns the Iron Door Saloon in Grovedale, Calif. She has lost two homes to the Rim Fire and is struggling to keep her business open.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

As the Rim Fire rages on, thousands of houses are threatened; over 100 have already burned. One of them was the home and the family ranch that Corinna Loh grew up on. Now she's struggling to keep her bar, the Iron Door Saloon, one of California's oldest, up and running. Good morning to you.

CORINNA LOH: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: It sounds like it's been a harrowing week. Tell us what has actually happened to you.

LOH: We were evacuated from the ranch on Monday and we're not allowed to return until Saturday. We had a police escort. It was pretty surreal, actually. It looked like a moonscape out there. It looked like a completely different property than I recall from my whole life.

MONTAGNE: What are you seeing in the area now?

LOH: Well, there's many, many fire crews and emergency responders in our town, including very large aircraft using fire deterrent. I've never seen them in my life and I've been here since I was five. So it sort of feels like you're in a war zone a little bit.

MONTAGNE: Now, your saloon, the Iron Door Saloon...

LOH: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: ...is it in danger from the fire at all at this point in time?

LOH: Not at this point in time. And I don't expect it to threaten the town of Groveland again, which did happen last week. We don't expect it to be threatened but we have two-foot thick granite walls and there with the sod roof and our iron doors in the front. And, yeah, it's been there since 1852. One of the old tales of our place is they used to shut the doors and wait the wildfires out way back when because it was a nearly impenetrable building.

MONTAGNE: So now it's really the business that's being threatened because Labor Day, coming up this weekend, would normally be a very big tourist time for you, right?

LOH: That's correct. We only have four to five months of business a year, basically Memorial Day to Labor Day. And to lose this end of August and Labor Day weekend is just financially devastating for the businesses here in town. I normally employ about 45 people this time of year and I have maybe three working right now, three or four, possibly. So we're going to have to play it by ear until we have our entrance to Yosemite back open and tourists hopefully will come back.

MONTAGNE: You've lived there pretty much all your life. When you look out at this fire, you know, how does it compare to the different fires that you've lived through?

LOH: It's incomparable, actually. You know, from town looking east you'll see an enormous pyrocumulus cloud of smoke from the fire and it just is nothing like I've ever seen, having that as the background in town. And as close as it came to town was also unusual. The speed at which it moved and the containment that was never attained for quite some time was so unusual. I've never seen anything like it.

MONTAGNE: I hope things get better in the coming days. Thanks very much for talking with us.

LOH: Yeah. Thank you so much. I would just like to thank all the firefighters for all that they do for us up here. We so much appreciate it.

MONTAGNE: All right. That's Corinna Loh. She's owner of the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, California just outside of Yosemite.

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