Rim Fire squeezes businesses as would-be tourists cancel plans

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter monitors a radio while battling the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park.
A U.S. Forest Service firefighter monitors a radio while battling the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park.
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As the 10-day old Rim Fire continues to burn in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park, tourism officials say area hotels, campgrounds and event organizers are dealing with numerous cancelations ahead of the Labor Day weekend.  

One of the areas affected most by the wildfire is Tuolumne County, which  includes cities such as Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia and Groveland.

RELATED: Massive wildfire near Yosemite one of California's worst at 143,980 acres 

On any given holiday, the county’s population of about 54,000 nearly doubles. Probably not this time around, says Nanci Sikes, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, though it’s hard to tell how many cancellations have occurred since the start of the fire. 

“I’m guessing it’s at least in the hundreds, but it could be in the thousands,” Sikes said Monday. “We just don’t have a handle on that right now.  I think [hotels] are busy rebooking those rooms, making them available for fire crews.”

More than 3,000 firefighters and emergency personnel are in the area.  

Gary Burgin, who runs Sierra Nevada Adventure Company in Sonora, said crews are shopping at his store to buy items they need to fight the fire, which is about 15 miles away.

“Rope, backpacking stoves — things that they might need because they’re basically camping, they’re basically living out here,” Burgin said. “A lot of them are living in parks... they’re sleeping there.”  

Burgin said customers who normally  buy camping items are ditching plans because of the Rim Fire. Though fire personnel who are shopping at his store have helped offset the loss, he's still feeling the pinch.     

Burgin’s other store in Arnold, which rents equipment, has shut down.  

“Our stores make thousands [of dollars] a day, so we’re talking a significant amount of money that’s being lost,” Burgin said.  

Many people shop at that store before they go kayaking and canoeing in the High Alpine Lakes.

“All that area is really just shut off because of all the smoke that is basically being generated stays up in the High Country," Burgin said. "So it really does affect us quite a bit.”  

County officials say, on the upside, evacuation warnings have been lifted in areas such as Pine Mountain Lake and Groveland.  Also, Yosemite Valley, which gets most of the tourists, remains open and is unaffected by the fire.  

The Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau has three operating centers fielding calls around the clock to help update potential Labor Day weekend visitors on everything from hotel accommodations to evacuations to road closures. 

Officials are urging people to call 1-800-446-1333 for more information.

The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 near Groveland in the Stanislaus National Forest.  The latest figures on acres burned and containment can be found below.