Just four miles from the nearest raging fire, the ash is swirling like falling snow at Marmot and ExOfficio headquarters in Rohnert Park, California. “It feels post-apocalyptic,” Joe Flannery, SVP and GM of Newell Brands Technical Apparel, said from the safety of a hotel room on the coast, where he escaped with his family in search of some much-needed fresh air.
“We’re in the 4th day of this,” said Flannery. “Everybody’s eyes are bloodshot, our voices are hoarse, everyone’s coughing. All our clothes smell like smoke.”
The raging Northern California fires have destroyed tens of thousands of acres killing at least 31 people. Approximately 400 people have been reported missing, and at least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. As 20,000 people are ordered to evacuate, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.
Flannery confirmed that Marmot and ExOfficio have been significantly impacted. Many employees and their families have been displaced and evacuated, and many more are on red alert to evacuate. Three families have lost their homes entirely.
The Rohnert Park offices are closed, but Flannery hopes to reopen on Monday. The company’s distribution center, located in Reno, Nevada, is open and orders are being fulfilled.
“We are so touched by all the individuals and companies that have reached out to us over the last few days to offer support, and we sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding as we go through this,” Patrice Christensen, director of marketing for both brands told us by phone. She says it’s still too early to assess the total impact on the company, but that “it’s great to know that we have the support of the industry.” She asked for continued patience as it relates to customer and dealer services until the crisis has passed.
Far from business as usual
With the Tubbs Fire in Northern Santa Rosa being less than 2 miles away, BUFF offices are closed and customer service has not been able to fulfill order requests. “Our main focus is the support of our BUFF employees and their families who have been directly affected by the fires.”, says Kevin Walker, marketing manager. “Rallying around them, their loved ones, and supporting them in every way that we possibly can.” Sadly, one team member has already lost a home due to the fires. They appreciate the support from the community and will fill orders as soon as they are able to.
We reached out to a number of retailers in the area to see how they are faring. We have been unable to reach REI and Sonoma Outfitters, both in precarious locations.
We did reach Drew Dickson, owner of Napa Valley Paddle and Petaluma Stand Up Paddle in Napa. Unable to get to his shop due to highway closures, he has also been closed since Sunday.
He has lost a storage barn that contained both personal items as well as paddleboards for his business. But he feels the loss won’t end there. He believes the industry will continue to feel the effects of these fires for months and even years to come with a major drop in tourism.
“People see the images on television, and it impacts their decision to vacation here,” Dickson says.
He points out a similar reaction when the area was previously hit with flooding and an earthquake. “The fire images are going to probably have even more of a negative effect because it’s even more visual, and it’s a scar on the land for a good couple of years.”
Looking at the glass half full, he hopes this shines a light on the beautiful waterways in the area that haven’t been damaged, which is something his business highlights to visitors. Dickson plans to open for business today and hopes he has the opportunity to show tourists another side of the Napa area throughout autumn.
Stepping up to help
George Ravel, owner of Lost Coast Outfitters in nearby San Francisco, says he is ready to help those impacted by the fire. “This is a tragic time for the Bay Area community as a whole,” he says. A thick blanket of smoke is currently hanging over the entire area, including San Francisco. Reports indicate that the air quality in the Bay Area is the worst in history.
Ravel has friends and customers who lost everything from their businesses to their homes. “Buying a new fly rod or heading out on a trip doesn't seem very important when you have a disaster of this magnitude in your backyard," he adds. "We are focusing how we can use the passionate community of people that built our company to help those in need right now. We are a part of this community and people we know and love need our help.”
For anyone searching for a way to help, look no further than Sports Basement for motivation. The team at Sports Basement, which has eight locations throughout California, is also going above and beyond. While the store has not been damaged, the air quality is very poor, and the fires are visible in the distance. Three quarters of the store’s Santa Rosa staff had to evacuate, but the remaining have stayed behind to keep the store open and be a mini-escape for the community.
"It's draining for employees, but it's also so rewarding for them to be able to help," says Aaron Schweifler, director of operations.
At the Santa Rosa store, residents are invited to come in to use the refillable water station or the outlets for charging phones. They can sit down and rest, and there are activities for the kids. The entire store is marked down so those impacted can get whatever they need.
At all of it's locations, Sports Basement is offering 40 percent off to anyone buying an item to donate to fire victims, including clothing, sleeping bags and blankets, pillows, packaged prepared food, coolers, portable stoves, lanterns, water, and water bottles. . They're collecting donations, as well, and the community is stepping up in a big way. After just 15 hours, two 26-foot trucks were filled to the roof. The trucks are headed to shelters in affected areas.
Suggested donations include: baby formula, baby food, diapers, stuffed animals and toys, toiletries, particle masks, batteries, canned foods, and underwear.
Schweifler is amazed by the generosity of his customers. People left their homes specifically to come to the store to purchase hundreds and even thousands of dollars of merchandise to immediately donate. “It’s so heart-warming to see the good in people. It makes it all worth it.”
BUFF marketing manager recommends sending donations to Redwood Credit Union, where 100 percent of donations go back to rebuilding and providing relief for the Santa Rosa community.
The advice he gives to other outdoor retailers looking to help is to not just think about now but consider months to come. “The challenge is how to match donations with those in need,” he explains.
“Even if you can’t find people who need stuff right now, if you can house donations for the eventual need that will come, and it certainly will come, retailers can help.”
Sadly, this crisis is far from over. People brace for wind gusts expected to impact the area this weekend that could worsen the situation. Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann explained at a news conference Thursday that fires had now combined and that "until we get them contained, they're all going to be a problem."