Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 @ 3:35 p.m.

Federal Disaster Loans Available for Del Norte Businesses Following Smith River Complex Wildfires

One of the incident teams that battled the fires, Southwest Incident Management Team 2, received accolades from Del Norte County residents in this Sept. 12 photo collage. | Courtesy of the Six Rivers National Forest


Del Norters Affected By Smith River Complex Shielded From Insurance Cancellations; Fire Highlights Local Concern Regarding California's Insurance Crisis


Low-interest federal disaster loans are available for Del Norte County business owners still getting back on their feet following last summer’s Smith River Complex wildfires.

Restaurateurs, innkeepers and other business owners took a massive financial hit when the fires forced Caltrans to shut U.S. 199 down and Pacific Power to cut electricity to the transmission lines that serve Del Norte.

Though she was loath to urge people to go into debt, Cindy Vosburg, executive director for the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, said these loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration may keep a business going.

“They’re not high-risk loans,” she said. “It’s to the government and take up to 30 years to repay. Again, it’s not that you want to see somebody go into debt, but we don’t want to see them go out of business.”

Vosburg is a member of the Del Norte Economic Resiliency Task Force. While fire crews were busy extinguishing flames, the task force gathered enough data and submitted enough economic injury surveys from local businesses for the administration to declare a disaster in Del Norte County, she said.

A product of the COVID-19 pandemic, the task force currently includes representatives from the Del Norte County Office of Emergency Services, Crescent City and the U.C. Cooperative Extension. The extension’s economic development advisor, Alec Dompka, was instrumental in creating the injury surveys and analyzing the data, Vosburg said.

“The injuries ranged from, on the low end, a vacation rental guy who said he lost $11,000 — that can be a lot of money to somebody — all the way up to almost $200,000 from another local business,” she said, adding that the business that lost $200,000 ships their product out of Del Norte County. “[The fires] caused them to have a lot of spoilage and waste.”

Businesses, including small agricultural cooperatives, those engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations may qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million, according to a SBA press release from Nov. 6.

The SBA acted under its own authority to declare a disaster after it received a request on Nov. 2 from Nancy Ward, director of the California Office of Emergency Services and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “authorized representative.”

The administration’s disaster declarations makes assistance available in Del Norte, Humboldt and Siskiyou counties as well as Curry and Josephine counties in Oregon, according to the press release.

A business’s eligibility for an SBA disaster loan is based on the financial impact from the disaster rather than actual property damage. These loans have a 4 percent interest rate for small businesses and a 2.375 percent interest rate for private nonprofits with terms up to 30 years.

Interest begins accruing 12 months after the first disaster loan disbursement. Loan repayments also begin 12 months after the date of the first disbursement.

A previous questionnaire Dompka created and circulated among Del Norte businesses and individuals roughly two weeks after the fire started on Aug. 15 gathered enough data to show that local businesses took a staggering hit during the fire.

That survey showed that Del Norte’s restaurant and retail industry had lost about $66,578 a day after Pacific Power restored electricity to much of Crescent City.

The lodging sector had lost $28,529 per day since Pacific Power restored electricity on Aug. 25, according to the initial survey. In the survey, Dompka estimated that restaurants will have lost more the $500,000 by the end of August, while lodging losses would top $250,000.

On Wednesday, Dompka told the Outpost that he hasn’t had time to reanalyze the data since he posted the first economic injury survey. Instead he helped the city’s IT team create the SBA survey.

“We worked with local partners to publicize and distribute the survey and I gave a few out to Crescent City businesses in person,” he said.

Dompka also pointed to the Prepare Del Norte website and a resource page for those still recovering from the fire.

Vosburg said she’s the conduit that links business owners to the resources they need. That’s the extent of her involvement — “we don’t need to know other people’s financial business,” she said.

As for the Economic Resiliency Task Force, Vosburg said that its members had kept that alliance going since the pandemic, meeting monthly via Zoom. Those meetings ramped up to weekly and then daily once the fire broke out.

Now that the flames are extinguished, Vosburg said task force members discussed the possibility of dissolving, a notion they rejected.

“We decided it was extremely important that we kept talking,” she said, adding that other members include Christy Hernandez with the SMART Workforce Development Center and Wil Franklin, of the Small Business Development Center, which serves Humboldt and Del Norte counties. “We decided early on that the communication between us was productive and important to economic development and resiliency here in Del Norte County.”

For more information about Small Business Administration disaster loans click here. Applicants can also call the SBA's Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email

The North Coast Small Business Development Center offers free personalized counseling to businesses recovering from the wildfires. For more information, click here or call (707) 445-9720.


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