Originally Published: July 3, 2006 4 a.m.
CROWN KING The roads into Crown King reopened to the general public at 6 p.m. Sunday as firefighters continued to gain the upper hand on the Tiger Rock Complex fires.
The U.S. Forest Service closed the roads Friday as the fires threatened the community, which is surrounded by the Prescott National Forest about 30 miles south of Prescott.
For this isolated mountain town of about 125 full-time residents, the Fourth of July holiday weekend is one of its biggest economic boosts of the year as desert dwellers seek a cooler climate.
The one-block-long main street includes a general store, gift shop and the Crown King Saloon, which also houses a restaurant and hotel. Another restaurant and a few bed and breakfasts are nearby.
"For the Fourth of July weekend, this is a pretty sleepy town," observed former Prescott National Forest supervisor Mike King, who returned to help as an information officer in Crown King on the Tiger Rock Complex fires last week.
Some Phoenicians did make the trek up the winding, 25-mile-long dirt road to Crown King from Interstate 17. County sheriff's officials let them in because they own summer homes.
Lynn Brennard said she and her family weren't worried about the fire. They could see it from their north Phoenix home, and after checking its location on their topographical map, they decided they would come up anyway.
Glendale residents who also owned property said they weren't afraid to come up, either.
"It depends on how many drinks we had before you asked," one woman joked as she relaxed on the patio with her friends at the Crown King Saloon.
But inside the saloon, employees weren't in as much of a joking mood.
Waitress Cindy Boch at Cindy's Restaurant inside the saloon said the closure cut business by as much as 80 percent. The restaurant cancelled its special and closed early Saturday.
Her father-in-law, Mike Boch, is a bartender at the saloon, and he said the bar told its weekend band not to bother to show up. The hotel rooms upstairs were all booked yet empty.
"This place would be packed right now," he said Saturday.
Bear Creek Cabins owner Steve Coleman said he wished that the Forest Service would have let people in if they already had room reservations. His 11 cabins were rented but empty.
"This weekend is really hurting me," he said.
The Cedar Roost Bed and Breakfast also had 11 rented but empty cabins.
"We're very concerned about the economy here," forest law officer Jim Clawson assured people at a community meeting Saturday. However, "Safety is our number-one priority."
An evacuation would be much more complicated with hundreds of tourists in the community and the steep, four-wheel-drive roads that surround it, he said.
While the roads reopened Sunday, fire managers warned people to use caution on the narrow, steep, winding roads into town since they might come across large firefighting vehicles. And Horsethief Basin on the forest remains closed.
While business was down, the U.S. Forest Service helped ease the situation by purchasing about 100 firefighter meals three times a day at the two restaurants and general store in town.
"We try to do the right things by locals whenever we can," said Logistics Chief Ed Ryan, noting that Prescott National Forest Supervisor Alan Quan asked the national Type I team to help the Crown King economy if possible.
Although she would have appreciated the 400 or 500 visitors she usually sees on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Crown King Curio store owner Amy Flores was taking the wildfire in stride.
"Hey, you know what? It's part of living in Crown King," Flores said, adding that it's better to be slow for a weekend than to lose her whole business.
Flores and her friends Linda Bolle and Kim Coleman found something else to keep them busy Saturday afternoon: a nice chunk of cake.
"The baby was craving cake," Coleman said, explaining that her pregnancy is a great excuse to eat what she wants.
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