Solvang's Holiday Inn opens doors to firefighters

Solvang's Holiday Inn opens doors to firefighters

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Some of the firefighters battling the Rey fire south of Lake Cachuma are getting more than a cot in a dusty field to rest on after a day — or a night — on the lines.

At least 100 firefighters at a time are sleeping in real beds at Solvang's Holiday Inn Express, which has halted its regular tourist reservations to provide rooms for fire crews.

Monday afternoon, a long line of red trucks from Orange County Fire Authority lined Highway 246 in front of and beyond the hotel, while half a dozen Cal Fire trucks clustered in a vacant lot across the street.

A U.S. Forest Service truck filled a parking space at the east end of the building, while more Cal Fire pickups were scattered in the hotel's underground parking garage.

Jennifer Bledsoe, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express, said the hotel has devoted 50 rooms — some of which are "triple queens" — to firefighters.

"We love the firefighters," Bledsoe said. "They're protecting our town. And they're super polite.

"I told 'Fireman Bob' (of Cal Fire) that as guests leave, we're holding their rooms for firefighters," she said. "He said, 'That's good because I've got 70 more (firefighters) coming.'"

She said the hotel has stocked a cooler with bottles of water, Gatorade and other such drinks to quench firefighters' thirst as they come off the lines.

The check-in and check-out times and maid services have all been rescheduled to accommodate the crews that change shift about 8 a.m. each day, Bledsoe said.

She added the hotel isn't concerned about room rates.

"The important thing is to take care of the fire," she said. "We don't want our town to burn down."

Bledsoe said when the Sherpa fire broke out in June, someone called the hotel looking to book for rooms for firefighters. 

She immediately agreed to hold rooms for the crews and was told some other hotels were not so accommodating.

"I guess the word spread," she said.

Bledsoe said the hotel began getting calls from fire crews looking for rooms the day after the Rey fire erupted last Thursday.

As of Monday night, 1,390 firefighters from throughout the state were battling the fire that had consumed 27,096 acres and was 30-percent contained.

Crews had contained the fire on its southern and western flanks, but it continued to burn east and northeast toward the Dick Smith Wilderness, Mono Creek and the Zaca fire burn scars, a Santa Barbara County spokesman said.

The historic U.S. Forest Service Santa Cruz Guard Station, Doty Cabin and Ogilvy Ranch were under direct threat, the spokesman said.

Paradise Road remained closed, and portions of East Camino Cielo and Gibralter roads also were closed.

An air quality watch also was in effect as a result of heavy smoke and falling ash.

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