Tourism in Oakhurst thriving despite Sky Fire

Hotel reservations are at a record high. Despite fire concerns, hotels are booked.
OAKHURST, Calif. (KFSN) -- At the Hounds Tooth Inn in Oakhurst, the only sounds are running water and wind chimes. The bed and breakfast is a tranquil escape. Guests come for the peaceful surroundings.

But a few miles uphill, it's a much different story. Fire trucks speed by and helicopters hover in the air. As the Sky Fire rages, tourists are nervous. Rachel Hurd is staying the summer as a camp counselor. She noticed the smoke Thursday afternoon. She said, "We haven't had to evacuate or anything yet. But it's definitely smokier than it has been. We're definitely noticing it."

Her co-worker Natalie Cordova added, "We've talked about emergency procedures like if there was to be a fire like where we should go, the plan of action. But we're hoping we don't have to evacuate or put any of that into effect."

But despite the hazy skies and the billowing smoke, visitors are still flocking to Oakhurst on their way to Yosemite and Bass Lake. And "no vacancy" signs greet travelers at nearly every hotel. Janie Long, manager at Hounds Tooth Inn, says she's booked for the next several days. She said, "We've had a couple guests call to see if we're immediately in danger, and of course we're not, so they still plan to arrive and visit Yosemite as well. No cancellations? Not one cancellation yet."

So far, neither the drought nor wildfires seem to have affected tourism in Oakhurst. In fact, area hotels are reporting a record high in bookings. Betty Linn with the Sierra Yosemite Visitors Bureau said,"They're at the height of their season. We're showing a 20-percent increase over last year." She says the visitors bureau has been busy answering anxious calls. "Can I get in? Am I safe? And of course they are."

Those kinds of reassurances are vital. Madera County's tourism industry is second only to agriculture for the number of dollars brought in. Properties can hardly keep up. The historic Sierra Sky Ranch is undergoing extensive renovations. A grand opening date hasn't been set. But in the background, the most unwelcome visitor of all -- the fire -- is extending its stay.
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