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Rocky Mountains

Amid Colorado fires, Durango encourages "shop local" movement

Fire danger prompts rare national forest closures in Colorado and New Mexico, putting a hold on the tourism stream to surrounding communities.

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Two fires burn near Durango, Colorado. The larger—416 Fire—started on June 1.Trails 2000

As two fires rage in southern Colorado, employees of Durango’s Backcountry Experience are driving to the front lines to deliver wildland boots, sleeping pads, and other essentials for emergency responders.

“This is not something I’ve asked them to do but they’re doing it to be part of this,” said store owner Ben Rockis. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of them and our firefighters.”

Today, officials closed San Juan National Forest’s 1.8 million acres to the public—the first time in 100 years and the second national forest to close this month after Santa Fe National Forest implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions, which prohibits campfires and other types of open burning.

Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, said he is in touch with the Forest Service and the outdoor industry folks in the area. He said Governor John Hickenlooper is organizing a visit.

“The South San Juans are where I got my start as an Instructor for the Colorado Outward Bound School,” Benitez told SNEWS. “They have a special place in my heart. When a forest that surrounds a mountain range that has more land above 10,000 feet than anywhere else in the U.S. closes, it is a clear sign that safety is the most important thing right now. Durango and surrounding regions are indeed open for business and if anything, Coloradans have shown a tremendous capacity for resiliency during these difficult situations. We are all here for one another, and thats the most important part of all. “

The entire southwestern region is facing exceptional drought after an unusually hot spring followed a dreadful snow season. In addition to Colorado, wildfires are burning in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, and Texas, according to the Forest Service.

Colorado is battling its fifth largest fire in the state north of Durango—more than 23,000 acres—and a smaller one to the west of the city. Neither are fully contained. They are divided by the Colorado Trail, threatening hundreds of miles of iconic hiking trails.

The closures mean tourists are bound to stay away from Durango, which relies heavily on the outdoor recreation economy. Jeremy Dakan, of Pine Needle Mountaineering, said there’s a shop local movement to encourage residents to support businesses in the meantime.

“It’s a back to back double whammy,” Dakan said of the low-snow season and the fires. “Of course we knew this could happen, but it’s a rude awakening when it actually does.”

The fire is the talk of the town, and both Backcountry and Pine Needle are educating customers about what’s closed and open, what’s not allowed, and ways to stay safe.

Pine Needle held a sock drive, and is planning to be a food drive collection station and is gathering gift cards and other resources to help more than 2,000 residents who have been displaced.

Additionally, Verde Brand Communications along with sock brand Balega, based in North Carolina, will be donating up to $750 worth of socks to firefighters battling the blazes.

“Our poor outdoor recreation economy has been suffering with no snow, no water, and now this,” said Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, founder of Verde, which has an office in Durango. “Closing the forest is just unprecedented.”

But as climate change worsens, closures could become less of a rarity.