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Some of the downturn was caused by the absence of arriving tourists. But part of the story was of second-home owners decamping or failing to arrive. The Mountain Express tells of art pieces — Picassos, Renoirs, O’Keeffes and others — being encased and flown out on private planes. “There are a number of collectors in the valley that have paintings and sculpture of significant value, pieces that you would read about in the New York Times,” said Gail Severn, an art gallery owner.
While the U.S. Forest Service spent upwards of $16 million on the fire — including the use of 19 helicopters, seven bulldozers, and 106 engines — one insurance company dispatched its own crew to the scene to apply flame retardant to homes.
AIG Private Client Group has been offering loss-prevention services to more expensive homes built in what is called the urban-wildlands interface. In the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, it had 40 high-end homes at risk in the fire, to which flame retardant was applied by a contractor from Montana.
A company spokesman, Peter Tulupman, told the Idaho Statesman that the company realized several years ago that it could save money if it took a proactive approach to wildfires.
Don Smurthwaite, a spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told the New York Times that the agencies see no downside to the company’s work. “The homeowner receives added protection, the insurance may be able to avoid a large payoff, and it frees up firefighters to work on suppression rather than protecting structures. That’s one of the big change in firefighting in the last 20 years. People are moving into areas that have burned historically.”
The Idaho Mountain Express recalled small efforts — a matter of a few truck loads of wood — in recent years to thin the forest on the edge of residential areas. But no efforts had been made to remove wood from where the fire started and took off. “It doesn’t make sense to do fuels reduction where you don’t have homes,” explained the local district ranger, Kurt Nelson.
At a briefing last Thursday, federal firefighting officials were asked to comment on the relative size and difficulty of the fire. “Ten years ago, 46,000 acres was a big fire,” they said. “But with the amount of drying and the amount of fuels in the forest now, this isn’t a small fire, but it’s not a huge fire, either.”
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