Chena Hot Springs Resort reopens as wildfire subsides

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Chena Hot Springs Resort reopened Monday after being closed for 10 days by a wildfire that charred 22,000 acres and came to within a few miles of the resort.

''For 10 days, we were in the business of fire. We can't wait to go back into the resort business,'' said general manager Joe Juszkiewicz.

Chena Hot Springs is about 50 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

The resort has lost an estimated $50,000 in revenue because of the closure. Juszkiewicz said he wasn't sure if owner Connie Karl will sue over the financial loss. Investigators have said the fire was human-caused.

The loss would have been greater but the state is using the resort as a fire-fighting staging area and has paid to lease land and for use of shower facilities, Juszkiewicz said.

''It's helped ease the blow by collecting money from them,'' he said. The state also hired some idled hot springs staff to help the fire-fighting effort.

A contractor has provided food service for the more than 330 firefighters and support staff that have been fighting the fire but the resort will take over feeding workers later this week. The resort closed its bar at the request of the Alaska Division of Forestry.

The fire destroyed four structures and closed campgrounds and hiking spots beyond Mile 39 of Chena Hot Springs Road. The state park service is evaluating opening campgrounds in the next few days.

Crews have gotten the upper hand on the fire, known as the West Fork Fire, with help from high humidity and scattered showers. The fire gained no acreage over the weekend, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.

The fire started May 23 as a spot fire near Mile 50 on the south side of Chena Hot Springs Road and the Chena River.

Juszkiewicz is looking for ways to use the fire damage as a selling point for tourists. The resort will have guided tours to the charred woods. The forestry division agreed to provide the resort with a kiosk that will have information on the fire and fire activity in general, Juszkiewicz said.

''We're in the business of selling woods here,'' he said. ''It's kind of hard to figure out how to market charred trees.''

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