BROOKINGS, Ore. — An extremely active fire season this summer is pushing people in Oregon and Northern California to escape to the coast to get a breath of fresh air. Coastal towns like Brookings are seeing an increase in tourists visiting because of the smoke inland.
“When the fires started it seemed like the pace picked up immediately,” says Howard Jones.
You won’t find Howard Jones complaining about the busy season. The owner of the Sporthaven Marina Bar and Grill knows how quickly that can change. Last year looked a lot different for the town of Brookings. The Chetco fire, which burned more than 191,000 acres, led to a loss in tourism and profits for local businesses.
“Last year the fire was so close that a lot of people cancelled on us. The environment wasn’t that appealing so I’m pretty sure most of the people coast must have felt a pinch,” says Sarju Patel, general manager for the Westward Inn.
Howard Jones says he is sympathetic to what people are going through in areas affected by fires and smoke. His restaurant was almost evacuated last summer and says, “our hearts are open for those who are going through the same things that we went through last year.”
With people coming from areas like Redding and Medford, Brooking residents are noticing heavier traffic along the 101 and even empty shelves at the grocery store.
“Even grocery shopping, the stores are depleted on their shelves, they weren’t expecting the extra people to be coming in to escape the smoke,” says Shacon Ritz, co-owner of Mattie’s Pancake House.
Lodging in the area is another area people are seeing an influx of visitors. Hotels and RV parks have been booked up for weeks, making it difficult for people to find last minute accommodations. As you drive up the 101 highway no vacancy signs are lit up everywhere.
“A lot of no vacancy signs, a lot of people calling ahead of time trying to get their rooms. Sometimes we even get them at nighttime, people trying to get rooms when it’s already filled up,” says Sarju Patel.
Many business owners like Jones are grateful for a busier Summer season. He says he’s also happy his restaurant can serve a place for people to get a break from the smoke and heat.
“This a place you can come to relax just for a minute and kind of let it go,” says Jones.
Many of the businesses expect the high tourism numbers to persist into late September because of the smoke. Visitors are already preparing in advance by making reservations for next year at various lodging sites in Brookings.