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Latest California wildfire impacts dealers, distributors

November 26/December 3, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 12

By Ken Ryan


The Northern California Camp Fire blaze, which sparked on Nov. 8 in Butte County, killed 88 people (203 were still listed as missing at the time of publication), burned through 153,336 acres of land and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and in excess of 4,800 businesses and other structures. It was declared 100% contained on Nov. 25, but not before it claimed at least two floor covering dealerships in the town of Paradise—Cal-Vada Flooring and Dick’s Floor Covering.

The Camp Fire and those blazes that broke out near Malibu in November are merely the latest in a series of wildfires that have scorched the Golden State. In fact, six of the top 20 most destructive California wildfires in history have occurred in the last two years, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

The region is left in turmoil. “Thousands are homeless in areas that do not have available temporary housing,” said Allen Gage, president of Tri-West, a top 20 flooring distributor. “And while the story has lost its drive in the mainstream news, the situation is very bleak for tens of thousands of people who have nowhere to live while trying to rebuild their lives. Thousands fled the Paradise and Magalia towns with nothing more than a few personal belongings. This area, as well as Redding, are far enough away from Sacramento that the ability to handle large-scale construction will be quite challenging.”

Authorities said the combined 2017 and 2018 fires destroyed almost 40,000 homes and commercial buildings primarily in the Santa Rosa, Napa, Redding, Lake County and Butte County areas. The 2017 fires in Napa and Santa Rosa—where over 6,000 homes were lost—have been very slow to recover. “Availability of contractors and construction workers in an area with very little tract home building going on has been one of the factors in the slow recovery,” Gage told FCNews. “The local governments indicated during the fires the building process would be streamlined. Now, a year later, that has not really been the case.”

Now, in the aftermath of Camp Fire, flooring distributors are again facing a slew of issues, including a limited pool of contractors and construction workers from which to choose and badly damaged infrastructure in areas with minimal resources to rebuild.

“Paradise and Magalia are both almost completely destroyed and will take many years to rebuild,” Gage said, noting that Paradise and Magalia are looking at roughly 10,000 job losses with no regional job resource to replace those positions. “The short labor supply will only make the recovery that much more difficult for all involved.”

Air quality concerns arising from the fires also affected business. For a time, Northern California ranked as the dirtiest air in the world, according to Purple Air, an air-quality monitoring network, topping smoggy cities in both India and China.

“Business was negatively affected for 10 days in all cities within a 100-mile radius due to the poor air quality from the smoke,” said Drew Mittelstaedt, partner with Longust Distributing, which has operations in California. “The air quality was at a hazardous level from Redding all the way down to Sacramento. Scorched earth doesn’t begin to describe what happened up there.”

Jeff Hamar, president of Galleher, a top 20 flooring distributor based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., attested to the environmental damage. “There was considerable impact to the air quality in Northern California, and many of our employees mentioned how serious the problem was.”

Some health officials warned the smoke resulting from the fire could create health hazards for workers and visibility issues for vehicles. “Shipping during the fires was very difficult as many roads were closed,” noted Steve Kleinhans, president of Big D Floor Covering Supplies, a top 20 distributor with operations in California.

A representative from Chico Carpet One Floor & Home, located about 12 miles from Paradise, told FCNews the smoke was very bad for over a week. “We had to close the store during the worst of it,” he said.

Overall, it is a cumulative effect that is devastating. “We are looking at years of recovery for both northern and southern parts of California,” Gage said.