Basalt businesses weather the Lake Christine Fire in their backyard
July 8, 2018
The irony is about as subtle as the restaurant's spicy sauce, and the owner of the Basalt eatery named Smoke Modern Barbecue will tell you as much.
"It occurred to me yesterday that everybody is coming to eat at a place called 'Smoke' and the irony," Jamie Theriot said Friday. "But we can't do anything about that."
Last week was anything but normal for Smoke and other businesses in the area of El Jebel and Basalt, where a fire erupted on the eve of the Fourth of July, forcing evacuations, closures and event cancellations.
The spectacle of the event — highlighted on Wednesday night and the early Thursdsay morning when gusts soared to 50 mph, creating what authorities described as a "prolific ember shower" — sparked understandable fear in the tight-knit community. But according to Theriot, "I think it only galvanized us. We've got a lot of firefighter traffic, a lot of evacuee traffic. It's been crazy as far as maintaining deliveries and the hours of operations."
Smoke is in the Willits development, so it wasn't forced to close as some businesses did in Old Town Basalt. Many of its employees, however, like those at so many other businesses, saw their lives disrupted by the fire. Some continued to work, while others had more obvious and pressing matters to tend to.
"We've had a number of staff who are evacuated and continue to work," Theriot said. "Some have to take care of personal issues, which may be the biggest impact on us in terms of negative."
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Cafe Bernard, located on Midland Avenue in Old Town Basalt, was forced to close for part of Wednesday and all of Thursday. It reopened Friday, co-owner Cathy Click said.
"If this is the worst thing that happened, that we missed a day of business in the middle of a huge wildfire, I'm OK with that," she said. "It sucks, but you know what? Everybody is OK, nobody is in harm's way and given the circumstances, the firefighting effort has been unbelievable for the protection of downtown."
Other Midland businesses relocated their operations, such as CCY Architects, which sent a blast email Friday.
"We are working on providing remote access to our servers so that our teams can continue to meet any of your urgent needs remotely. … We will be back in the office soon," wrote Rich Carr, a principal of the firm, in the email to clients and others.
On Sunday morning at Frying Pan Anglers on Midland Avenue, shop manager DJ Ford said the store lost some business Thursday because of the fire, but it wasn't forced to close like those across the street — affected operators ranged from the restaurants to boutique shops.
"We were OK," he said, noting "lots of gawkers" were in the vicinity when the blaze took hold in earnest last week.
At Sure Thing Burger at Willits, owner Scott Picard said the economic impact was minimal yet some employees were affected.
"Just bad air quality," he said, adding "we know how to plan for most events and we care for our employees. We checked on them during the event and we talked with them and made sure they had everything they needed and were well cared for."
The Element Basalt hotel had a number of cancellations, but they were made up for with bookings from those displaced by the fire.
"It's day to day," general manager Sally Alward said Friday. "We were totally sold out, but then we took some cancellations due to the fire. But we've been taking care of as many people as possible that have been evacuated, as well as our employees that have been evacuated."
Basalt canceled its Sunday Market and also has canceled Basalt Bike Day scheduled July 14. Aspen Animal Shelter's Annual Dog Daze of Summer Carnival, set for Sunday, was canceled, as well.
The Aspen Valley Marathon, which starts in Aspen and finishes in downtown Basalt, is set for July 14. Organizers said they would make an announcement today on whether the event will be held on its scheduled date.
The Basalt Chamber of Commerce has a special website noting closures an openings. Updates are available at https://sites.google.com/basaltchamber.com/lakechristinefire/business-updates.
Airspace also has been under Federal Aviation Administration restrictions because of the fire, forcing airlines to cancel many flights in and out of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. Those restrictions are expected to last into this week, authorities said at a briefing Saturday.
The toll on Aspen tourism, however, has been felt but has not been drastic, said Bill Tomcich, president of the central reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass.
"People who are resourceful can always find ways to get into Aspen," he said. "It's always easier in the summer than it is the winter."
Tomcich added that the perception of the fire, which attracted national media attention, rather than the added hassles of getting to Aspen, might have resulted in some lost business.
"We have seen a small number of cancellations related to the fire," he said.