Firefighters continue to battle Southern California’s wildfires. The largest, the Thomas fire, covers more than 230,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and it ranks as the fifth largest in the state’s history. Together, the six fires in Southern California have destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

With more than 93,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders in the areas affected by the Thomas fire alone, the blazes have brought considerable disruption to daily life and business operations. While no promotional products businesses in the area have yet reported property damage due to the fire, several have experienced power outages and have been forced to temporarily close their facilities.

“There’s a professional element to the fire’s impact,” says Tonia Allen Gould, CEO of Ventura, California, distributor Tagsource, LLC (PPAI 166279), “and a personal one. There’s a lot of smoke in the office and we had to close when we were evacuated. But the personal effects of this are graver. My mother-in-law is staying with us because she was evacuated from her retirement village. My son’s school burned down, as did both houses we were considering buying earlier this year. Smoke permeates the air in Ventura and we’re all still walking around wearing masks. I feel sorry for the people who live here and for the 800 homes that have been lost. I’ve joined the Red Cross. It emphasizes to me how important it is for us to become more aware and cognizant of what’s going on with each other.”

Suppliers C. Sanders Emblems (PPAI 440381) and Pinnacle Designs (PPAI 112704) are both in San Fernando, an area threatened by the Creek fire burning in the Angeles National Forest. Both temporarily closed their offices and have had to make accommodations for evacuation orders, school and road closures, and poor air quality due to the smoke.

“We are fortunate that the fires are no longer an issue near our facility,” says Monique Nigorizawa-Salvatier, director of sales and marketing at Pinnacle Designs. “Our first day back on Wednesday, the smoke was the worst of it, but we had masks and our air circulating to help keep the smell out.  We opened up our office to the children of PD because all the schools were closed in the area and most of our employees are local. Everyone was great through the crisis and it just brought everyone together while supporting each other. There were a few evacuations with our employees, but thankfully no one lost their homes.”

Peggy Ledbetter, president of C. Sanders Emblems, adds, “Our office was in the middle of the evacuation zone, with all roads and freeways closed for miles around. Fortunately, we were able to post on social media and access our company email accounts remotely to put out a message that we were closed. I was very worried about a rush order due in last week. We ended up driving the products to our customer once we were able to reopen so they would have them in time for their event.”

Lasting effects of the fires may be lingering issues related to smoke, as well as lessons on how to manage large-scale disasters going forward. Ledbetter says, “My main concern when we reopened was the smell of smoke inside the office. All filters and ducts need to be cleaned. We can't turn on any AC or heat as we'd be breathing in all the ash and detritus falling from the sky.

“One takeaway as an owner that I would like to pass on to other businesses: have all your employees’ contact information in your phone so you can text or call them. Some of my employees were trying to make their way to the office and I needed to let them know what was going on. I have 14 employees, but larger companies should have a phone tree or other ways to reach everyone quickly.”

Several resources have been established to help those affected by the fire. The United Way of Ventura County, American Red Cross of Ventura County and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services have partnered on the Thomas Fire Fund. Donations can be made by texting UWVC to 41444, online or over the phone at 805-485-6288.

GoFundMe has established a page with numerous verified relief campaigns, and the Humane Society of Ventura County is collecting donations and supplies to support the more than 300 animals it has taken in since the fires started. For additional opportunities to lend support to those in the affected area, click here.

“We are counting our blessings and very concerned about all those in the Thomas fire just north of us in Ventura and Santa Barbara,” says Ledbetter. “We'd like to reach out and help any businesses in those areas that we can. If any promotional products business needs a warehouse, or our help, we are here for them at 800-336-7467.”