Wallow Fire Affects one of the White Mountain's Main Industries

July 01, 2011

The state’s biggest wildfire is more than 90 percent contained.  And, while cleanup continues in the forest…business and tourism officials in parts of the White Mountains are trying to salvage their high season.  From Phoenix, KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports.

For Paul Allen, this is kind of like déjà vu…


(Well, unfortunately, it’s like revisiting 2002 and the rodeo chedeski fire….)


Allen owns Whispering Pines Resort in Lakeside…an area that was largely unaffected by the Wallow fire. 


(The week of the fire we had 20 to 25 cancellations of people either fearful of smoke or fearful of flames, it’s more of a matter of perception than reality that’s what’s hurting us this year.)


Allen says summer in the White Mountains is like Christmas at a retail store.  He’s worried about how the fire…and the attention it’s generated will affect business.  Beverly Stepp, Executive Director of the Pinetop-Lakeside Chamber of Commerce says he’s not alone. 


(They are concerned because a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the area do think that the entire area’s burning, which it’s not…so they are concerned to see what the feedback is going to be during the rest of the summer.)


(Business, at first, we had some cancellations, and now once the word’s getting out that Greer is still here, still green, and there’s only basically some hillsides that got some sustainable damage with some of the trees and everything else up top, people are re-booking.)


Allen Johnson is one of the owners of the Molly Butler Lodge in Greer.  His place is OK…although the fire did burn more than 20 homes and some other buildings in town.  He says he lost a couple of weddings…but thinks in the end, it’ll be alright.  Whispering Pines Resort’s owner, Paul Allen, doesn’t think the problems will last beyond this summer….but he says the next few months could be tough.


(Bottom line is, at the end of the year, we’re all gonna have less money to spend, our employees are gonna have less money to spend, so unfortunately, it’s a trickle down effect throughout the entire community.)


Allen says he’s been using his company’s website to get the word out about coming to Lakeside.  The chamber of commerce’s Beverly Stepp says new technology is a big reason why she doesn’t think the recovery from the Wallow Fire will take as long as the one following the last biggest wildfire in state history.


(People will know at that moment, you know, that everything is fine, everything is fine…so I think the recovery will be a lot quicker than what is was 9 years ago, since technology has changed.)


There’s another factor that some in the White Mountains are counting on…call it curiosity tourism.  Allen Johnson with the Molly Butler Lodge says he’s seeing cancellations by people concerned by the fire offset by reservations from people intrigued by it.


(Those types of cancellations are being replaced by the people who want to come up, because of the exposure Greer’s gotten in the White Mountain community, so I think it’s gonna kind of par out, and then next year, it’s probably gonna be even stronger…so yeah, it is kind of ironic.)


Johnson says community leaders have started the Greer Wallow Fire Recovery Fund, to help repair some of the damage caused by the fire.  And, Gretchen Forbeck, General Manager of PVC at the Round House Resort in Pinetop, says Arizonans can help by getting in the car.


(There’s been a lot of donations made for the fire victims, and now at this point, the best donation you could make is to come up and help our economy.)


Forbeck’s sentiments were echoed by all of the hotel operators with whom we spoke….each ended their interviews with a reminder that they’re open for business, and ready for customers.

For kjzz, I’m mark brodie.