California Wildfires Affecting Promo Pros Personally, Professionally

Wildfires continue to rage across Southern California as nearly 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes this past week. Some promotional product companies in the region are contending with both professional and personal challenges as a result of the widespread blazes.

The Thomas Fire, the largest of the five blazes currently burning in the Golden State, has ripped across 230,000 acres from Ventura County to Santa Barbara County. Officials report that the inferno has become the fifth largest blaze in modern California history. It was only about 15% contained as of Monday. An estimated $34 million has been spent fighting the fire so far. 

Promotional products professionals in Southern California have dealt with power outages, reduced staff, evacuations and, in some cases, suspended business operations. ASI data shows that nearly 200 ASI-listed firms – 100-plus distributors and 70-plus suppliers – were within the area of active wildfires over the past week.

Image from Ventura County, CA. Courtesy of Tonia Allen Gould

Ventura, CA-based Tagsource (asi/341358) was under mandatory evacuation until this past weekend when the Thomas Fire finally moved north. Tagsource CEO Tonia Allen Gould says she has not been back at the office to assess the smoke damage yet. “Our water was toxic all week, and our boil water order also finally got lifted,” Gould says. “We experienced intermittent power and internet outages. The air quality is still very unhealthy, and we continue to wear respiratory masks to go outside.”

Outside the office, Gould’s life has been turned upside down this past week. Her son’s school burned down in Ojai, CA, and her mother-in-law cracked her head open after slipping and falling in Gould’s bathroom. She was staying at Gould’s house after being emergency evacuated from her retirement community in the wee hours of the morning.

The Creek Fire and Skirball Fire have burned more than 15,000 acres combined since igniting last Tuesday and Wednesday in the San Fernando Valley. While Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel International (asi/279600) has maintained normal business operations at its Los Angeles headquarters, the company did have to close its San Fernando office early for a few days last week.

“I have a friend, not from work, who lost his house in Ventura,” says Craig Nadel, president of Jack Nadel International. “It has been pretty amazing and the smoke was really bad all over the city.”

Image from Ventura County, CA. Courtesy of Tonia Allen Gould

San Fernando, CA-based Pinnacle Designs (asi/78140) sits only a few blocks away from the mandatory evacuation border line from the Creek Fire. The supplier shut down last Tuesday due to air quality concerns and road closures, but resumed operations last Wednesday, even organizing a day care center in the conference room for employees’ children who didn’t have school. David Messe, executive vice president of Pinnacle Designs, said that Monday was the first in eight days without high winds.

Other companies have been luckier, such as Top 40 supplier Logomark (asi/67866). Trevor Gnesin, owner of the Tustin, CA-based company, said that aside from some employees being put on evacuation notice, there have been no negative effects to business.

So far the death toll stands at one, as authorities believe a 70-year-old woman died in a crash while fleeing the Thomas Fire. At least 98,000 residents have been evacuated in Southern California, CNN reported. At least 25,000 homes are threatened and more than 1,000 structures have already been wiped out. Up to 85,000 customers in the Santa Barbara area have been left without power as of Monday, according to Southern California Edison. More than 9,000 firefighters, including some from surrounding states, have been battling the wildfires, more than 5,000 of which have focused on the Thomas Fire alone. 

There was a “red flag warning” for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties through Monday evening, the National Weather Service reported, as gusty winds and low humidity were expected to elevate fire weather conditions.