Wildfires not keeping tourists away

Despite TV news coverage of local blazes, people from all over still coming to visit Steamboat area

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— Residents have learned to tell the difference between clouds and plumes of smoke over the past few weeks, but the difference is not always clear to tourists visiting the area.

Vickie Neumiller of Grand Junction stood on the observation deck of the Steamboat Lake State Park Visitor Center feeding quarters into a pair of stationary metal binoculars.

She leaned toward the eyepiece and turned the machine toward what she thought might be the nearest wildfire.

She had seen the fire coverage on her local television station and expected the worst, but on Saturday, the skies were clear and the only thing to watch through the binoculars was a speedboat cutting through the lake. She was pleasantly surprised.

Margie and Doug Webb had seen similar news broadcasts in Denver.

"The news made it look like Steamboat Springs was on fire," Margie Webb said, "but we got on the Internet and found out there was nothing to worry about."

"We were most concerned about the Burn Ridge fire," Doug Webb said.

The Webbs arrived at Steamboat Lake Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, a new fire was reported in the Sugar Loaf Mountain area due west of Steamboat Lake, about 20 miles north of Hayden.

It is burning spruce and has the potential to grow, according to the Craig Interagency Dispatch Center. More crews arrived Saturday morning to fight the new fire.

The fire was caused by lightning and is estimated to be about 20 acres in size.

The Webbs have seen slurries picking up water to put the fire out.

After three days of hiking, that was the only fire activity they had seen.

Despite the newest fire and reports all week around the state of fire in the area, the campground where they were staying was full, they said.

A group of campers at Pearl Lake State Park heard the news about the wildfire before they left their home in Arizona.

"We made these reservations a long time ago," one said. "We assumed if there was a real danger, they would close the park and notify us."

Despite the fires, the area is still seeing a lot of tourists. The Clark Store parking lot has been full for days with visitors passing through and stopping for food or to ask questions.

"We've been given a lot of information from the Forest Service and we know the fires are going the other way," Clark Store clerk Lynn McDowell said. "The smoke is gone today. It's been very beautiful here and very busy."

To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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