By Ken Ryan
Flooring distributors serving California are facing a double whammy of raging wildfires and preemptive blackouts, leading to travel disruptions in the Southland and especially Northern California.
In Northern California firefighters have struggled for more than a week to contain a nearly 77,000-acre blaze (the Kincade Fire) in Sonoma County’s winemaking region. High-wind forecasts prompted Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to impose a new round of blackouts for nearly 600,000 homes and businesses. At press time, the Kincade fire had destroyed 189 structures, including 86 homes, and forced 200,000 people to flee.
Meanwhile, residents and businesses in the Southland braced for the worst as weather forecasters warned of historic and potentially disastrous winds moving into Southern California. The Santa Ana winds of 50 mph to 70 mph—with isolated gusts of 80 mph—will be the strongest to hit the region in recent memory, forecasters said, and sparked urgent preparations for more potential fires and evacuations.
Amidst the fires and preemptive blackouts, flooring distributors faced numerous travel challenges. “Our intrastate transfers to Northern California from Southern California have been disrupted twice over the past week,” said Allen Gage, president of Tri-West Ltd., Santa Fe Springs, Calif. “We have not been able to deliver to Sonoma County over [several] days.”
Anne Funsten, president of Manteca, Calif.-based B. R. Funsten & Tom Duffy Companies, relayed a similar predicament. “It’s pretty hard to deliver anything to the areas with any of the preemptive power shut-offs because the traffic lights are all down and the areas are gridlock,” she explained. “Beyond that, going into Sonoma county is not really possible.”
Jeff Hamar, president of Santa Fe Springs-based Galleher, said there wasn’t as much impact in Southern California other than the big news of where the limited fires are burning—including one near the Getty Museum, in an area where celebrities such as basketball star LeBron James reside. James said he was forced to flee his home.
“Northern California is a different story,” Hamar said. “Lots of evacuations, heavy smoke smell is everywhere in the Bay Area. With the power outages many businesses and schools are closed. We have some impacted employees but none of our locations are impacted. It is having a small impact on business as our shipments into the affected areas have slowed.”
Big D Supply, which operates out of 29 locations in five western states, including California, bought generators for two locations in Northern California and four in Southern California in the event of power outages. “My 30 years of living in Southern California made me aware of fire danger areas,” said Steve Kleinhans, Big D president, who now lives in Phoenix, Ariz. “Unfortunately, I think there is a lot of fire damage coming.”
The Kincade and Getty fires are merely the latest in a string of destructive wildfires impacting the Golden State. Last year’s Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif., the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, burned about 150,000 acres in Butte County. The year before that, the Tubbs Fire burned more than 36,000 acres.
PG&E said it could shut off power to well over one million people in its latest bid to reduce wildfire risk.