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Business Spotlight: Wildfire burns profits for mountain merchants

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By April M. Brown

This time of year, business is usually thriving for Jemez retailers, yet, another fire season begins to take its toll.

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The typical crowds of campers, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts have now been replaced with buses and trucks full of personnel working in shifts and sleeping in tents while fighting the Thompson Ridge Fire.

Although the lands within the Santa Fe National Forest have remained open throughout the course of the fire, recreational visitors are currently staying clear of the area, it seems, mostly due to fear of heavy smoke and misinformation regarding road and forest closures.

Garth and Robin Bascom, owners of the Elk Mountain Lodge in La Cueva, said that guests booked as far off as July, have called and cancelled their reservations citing the fire as the reason for their decision. Robin said that she has had six cancellations in just the past week alone.

Many who are not familiar with the Jemez area have a false impression of how close the fire and smoke is to other popular outdoor destinations.

The fire is currently burning only in the Valles Caldera with smoke actually moving the opposite direction of La Cueva and Jemez Springs.

Locals report that the canyons fill with smoke for brief time during the morning hours, quickly dissipating and leaving the area clear of smoke for the remainder of the day.

Campers, who stayed through the weekend, said they actually decided to camp above Jemez Springs to escape the smoke filled valleys of their home to the east. They reported blue skies and sunshine for the duration of their stay.

While the fire creates a deterrent for normal visitors, an entirely new customer base is generated by the fire personnel and fire-related vendors who are only there because of the fire.

Ray Anderson, owner of Amanda’s Country Store, says that during a time when he would be selling out of fishing tackle and camping goods, he is selling out beef jerky, sodas, energy drinks and cakes instead.

The firefighters are given plenty of healthy rations at camp, but are not given any sugary or caffeinated amenities.

They purchase these things at the local shops and restaurants, providing the majority of their current business.

Many of the businesses have changed their hours to accommodate the firefighters’ schedules and are offering discounts to the personnel.

Now that the fire suppression efforts are becoming more successful, the firefighters will soon be dwindling in numbers and eventually leaving all together.

The Santa Fe National Forest is also under constant threat of closure due to hot, dry and windy conditions.

The mountain businesses, in general are concerned about how the rest of the summer may fare for them, if weather conditions do not improve over the next few weeks. Without their normal summer traffic, winter could prove to be even more difficult financially. Many of them rely on summer business to carry them through the remainder of the year.

Even with the fire activity, there are plenty of opportunities for fishing, hiking, soaking, dining, lodging and shopping in the Jemez Mountains.

Visitors can still sit on a wooden porch and have a nice meal, visit an art gallery, hike through pre-historic ruins and then soak in one of the local hot springs — all without fear of smoke or raging fire ruining their mountain experience.

Get the latest on local Jemez weather conditions, closures and fire information by visiting jemezcentral.com.