Firefighters Improving Merced's Economy

Merced, CA But hundreds are spending their off-duty hours in Merced. Firefighters are working around the clock to fully contain the nearly 28-hundred acre Oliver Fire. But at the end of each strike team's 24 hour shift, they head down from the smoke-filled hills to rest and recover.

Matthew Riveros, La Hambra Fire Dept.: "It's nice to come to the hotels and have a nice bed and showers waiting for us."

Some are staying in Mariposa and Oakhurst. But many of the hotels in those popular tourist towns were already booked for the start of the busy summer travel season. So hundreds of other firefighters have had to drive a little further to find vacancies.

Brent Berry, CALFIRE: "All the hotels are packed there in Mariposa, so we're staying down here in Merced."

Coleen Souza, Ramada Merced: "We've been booked solid already, we'll be booked for the next two weeks, and we've been booked straight for the last week, so 3 weeks altogether and counting."

Merced hotels aren't the only ones enjoying the boost in business. Gas stations and restaurants are also cashing in.

Janell Martin, Applebee's Merced Gen. Mgr.: "They're in here every night, sometimes on the afternoons. The service staff just loves them, it's great for our guests to see we're helping out the community, and of course it's wonderful because it boosts sales."

Staff members say the crews sometimes have to wait outside to avoid causing a fire hazard in the restaurant. But the other customers don't seem to mind the crowd.

Martin: "It makes us happy and it makes everyone around happy to see we're supporting the firefighters and taking good care of them."

And the firefighters say they don't mind having a few extra miles added onto their commute.

Bren Berry: "It's only about a 45 minute drive, so it's not too bad."

Merced city officials say the firefighters have generated more than 150-thousand dollars worth of revenue from hotel rooms alone.

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