Citing strained food and fuel supplies because of rough weather and tough road conditions, San Bernardino County officials Sunday evening closed visitors' access to the Big Bear Valley.
"It's been very difficult, if not impossible, for fuel trucks to get up the mountain and for trucks carrying food to get up to grocery stores," said David Wert, spokesman for San Bernardino County. "The gas stations are running out of gas, and the grocery stores are running out of food."
The closure comes at the peak of ski season and is a blow to local businesses and resorts that rely on heavy tourist traffic at this time of year. Only residents and those providing emergency services and food and fuel supplies will be allowed into the valley during the temporary closure, officials said.
Charlie Brewster, owner of the Robinhood Resort and adjoining restaurant and tavern, both in Big Bear Lake, said he was concerned that the closures would eat away at his business.
"I'm real worried if they're not going to open the roads in an expeditious manner," Brewster said.
He said the resort's 65 rooms were normally full on the weekends and at 40% capacity during the week at this time of year. Generally, about half of the restaurant's patrons each day are locals and half are tourists, he said, and thousands of dollars could be lost if there are no visitors.
"If we come into this next [few days] and people don't have access up here, it's basically going to shut us down," Brewster said.
Tamara Hemmerly, a spokeswoman for Big Bear Mountain Resorts, which operates the Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski areas, said that although the closures would affect immediate business, the weather was creating such good skiing and snowboarding conditions that the resorts might be able to recoup some losses when the restrictions are lifted.
"We have the most tremendous conditions, if you can imagine," Hemmerly said.
Authorities said many visitors were unable to leave because of insufficient gasoline supplies. More than 20 visitors who could not get back down the mountain were being housed at an emergency shelter, according to a news release from San Bernardino County authorities.
Highway 38 is closed from Redlands and Yucaipa into Big Bear to all traffic except emergency vehicles and fuel and food trucks. Only residents are allowed east of Snow Valley on Highway 18, and access to Big Bear Valley on Highway 18 from Lucerne Valley is closed to all but residents, authorities said.
Wert said it was unclear how long the valley would be closed to visitors but that officials would reevaluate the situation at noon Monday.