Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Oct. 13, 2023 @ 4:10 p.m. / Business, Emergencies, Fire

Del Norte Emergency Officials Urge Businesses, Individual Residents to Complete Economic Injury Survey

U.S. Forest Service crews remove hazardous trees damaged as a result of the Smith River Complex wildfires. | Photo courtesy of Matthew Gillotti

Though crews have reached 95 percent containment on the Smith River Complex, Del Norte emergency officials and business advocates continue to gather information needed for the community to see disaster relief aid.

The Del Norte Office of Emergency Services, Crescent City and the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce have released another economic injury survey for both business owners and individuals to fill out.

A previous questionnaire issued through the UC Cooperative Extension gathered enough data to show that local businesses, particularly those catering to tourists, took a staggering hit early in the fire. Now the Small Business Administration needs the narrative before it releases federal disaster funds, the chamber’s executive director, Cindy Vosburg, told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

“Dollar volume doesn’t matter to the SBA,” she said Friday. “If you think about our little town, our dollar value is so much less than a place like Hawaii where a complete town burned down. We have to show the SBA that at least five of our businesses suffered economic loss.”

The questionnaires will be sent to the Del Norte County Office of Emergency Services, which will forward them to the California Office of Emergency Services and then to the Small Business Administration. According to Bridget Lacey, Crescent City’s grants and economic development coordinator, the deadline for submitting that information to the SBA is Nov. 13.

Crescent City and Del Norte County is also conducting a needs assessment for individuals. They’ve been trying to determine what funding sources are available to help residents, but paused in that search to determine how deep the need is and if local emergency officials can help meet it, Lacey said.

The most recent survey seeks to capture all of the information needed to solve multiple problems, Lacey said. According to her, the SBA wouldn’t be able to offer disaster assistance to individuals affected by the Smith River Complex since the criteria is if more than 25 homes were lost as a result of the wildfire.

“For individuals, initially when this happened we put out all of our feelers to different funding sources,” Lacey said. “For instance, in Garberville after the Rio Dell earthquake, one of their local banks were offering emergency loans for individuals and businesses. We were trying to see, do we need to model a program like that? Is there actually a need? Or, if the bulk of the loss was food, and we were able to satisfy that with the food resources we had, maybe there isn’t that need.”

Nine buildings were estimated to have been destroyed in the wildfires, Del Norte Emergency Services Manager Deborah Otenburg told the Outpost. At least 40 percent of the value of the property has to be destroyed for the home to be considered a total loss, Otenburg said, pointing out that it’s hard for a small community to be able to meet the SBA’s criteria for individual disaster aid.

“Especially with this fire, which was on forest service land,” she said.

For local businesses, Vosburg said some may not make it through the winter because their loss in revenue came at the height of tourist season. One person has already put their business up for sale and another is expecting to close this winter, she said.

Vosburg submitted a questionnaire on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, noting that Sea Cruise — the last community event before winter sets in — occurred “right in the midst of this disaster.”
Many sponsors used their money to help fire victims instead of sponsoring Sea Cruise, Vosburg said. People from the Rogue Valley were reluctant to drive through the Smith River Canyon due to repair work and road closures on U.S. 199.

Registration was also down for Sea Cruise, by about 100, Vosburg said. She pointed out that then equates to fewer people staying at local hotels and eating in restaurants, especially since car show participants bring their family with them.

“The reason we work so hard and make it happen every year is because it’s a boost for our local businesses before everything shuts down,” Vosburg told the Outpost. “This isn’t something that can be sugar coated. We were hit with a fire disaster that is ongoing and will be for months — as long as it takes for that road to get fully open again”

A lightning storm sparked the Smith River Complex wildfires on Aug. 15 on the Six Rivers National Forest. With its transmission corridor threatened, Pacific Power cut electricity to Del Norte County on Aug. 18, leaving residents in the dark for about a week before the utility re-energized the community using generators.

The fire also forced Caltrans to close U.S. 199. The highway is still closed twice daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the week. Pilot cars escort motorists through the canyon via one-way controlled traffic when the road reopens.

On Aug. 31, Alec Dompka, economic development advisor for the Cooperative Extension’s Del Norte Office and who authored the initial survey, said individual residents incurred about $1,790 in extra costs as a result of the wildfires.

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.
Dompka estimated that restaurants will have lost more than $500,000 by the end of August, while lodging losses would top $250,000.


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