Wildfire taunts tourism in Western North Carolina

Party Rock Fire (11/16)

HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. (WSPA) – With evacuations in place and businesses closed, the fires are having an impact on some of the most popular tourism areas in North Carolina.

In Bat Cave Wednesday night, fire ripped through the backyards of homes and businesses coming feet away from the structure.

The fire’s not only threatening the physical building, but it’s also hurting business.

“Since we don’t have it open, people can’t come and shop,” said Laura Ledbetter, an employee at “A Day in the Country” store.

Ledbetter works at the Hendersonville store location and says business has been good. However, the business has had to close its Bat Cave and Gerton locations. Employees left early from work on Friday, and the stores have been closed since Saturday.

“Some of them really need to work, so it is sad,” Ledbetter said.

Those tourist towns are some of the more recent evacuations caused by the Party Rock fire.

“Roads are closed down there, and they can’t even get to where they had reservations, so it’s been kind of a devastating thing for tourism here,” said Beth Carden, the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director.

She said October and November are the tail end of their peak season anyways, so this fire is taking its toll. Although, the concerns caused by the fire were preceded by a spike in tourism last month.

“We first started off early October dealing with a lot of the evacuees from the Hurricane,” Carden said.

However, since flames are sparking and spreading more every night, it leaves a big uncertainty for the economy in some of North Carolina’s most traveled areas.

“We don’t know how much it’s going to impact us until we go through it,” Carden said.

She is still encouraging people to come to Hendersonville, saying they have a lot of events planned for the holiday season.  However, for an area that’s big on outdoor activities, this fire is burning their hopes.

“We’re totally dependent on our weather, so to watch this total desecration of our natural beauty is really heartbreaking,” Carden said.
There are a lot of apple orchards near the evacuation area that depend on tourism. An orchard owner said her amount of business was about 25% less than what it is on a normal weekend.

The fire has burned 5714 acres and counting at Party Rock and is only about 20 percent contained.

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