Losses from Chips Fire continue to mount
The running total on losses caused by the Chips Fire is continuing to rise.
“As the board is aware there are significant impacts to Plumas County across many, many sectors,” Jerry Sipe, director of the Office of Emergency Services, told the Plumas County Board of Supervisors during their Sept. 18 meeting.
Sipe told the board he is coordinating the information with the hope that it will lead to some financial compensation for those affected.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that any state disaster relief money will be forthcoming.
“We did not meet the state threshold for structures lost,” Sipe said.
Sipe ran through a list of private and public interests that were impacted.
The largest estimated loss comes from private timber land owned by Sierra Pacific, Collins Pine and Beatty. The losses are estimated at $25.4 million.
“That ripples throughout the job sector as well,” Sipe said.
Damage to private infrastructure, such as PG&E’s transmission lines, is still under review. But Sipe said that at one point “$800 million to $1 billion worth of infrastructure” was at risk. The number was so large, the board asked him to repeat it.
The county also suffered damage to its infrastructure. Power surges damaged the sheriff’s computer and 911 systems, and the costs are still being reviewed.
“When power was cut and then re-energized, it caused significant issues,” Sheriff Greg Hagwood said during the meeting.
The county also experienced financial losses because of county employees who had to respond during the fire.
The sheriff’s department estimated that it used $26,800 from its overtime budget during the fire, while public works, environmental health, and the clerk/recorder were also impacted.
Other public agencies, such as Seneca Healthcare District and local fire departments, were impacted. Seneca estimated the fire cost the hospital $17,500. Some of that total coming as a result of paying lodging charges for nurses who were affected by road closures.
As for private property losses, they too are still under review. During the meeting, several landowners in the Seneca area talked about the damage to their property and various outbuildings.
Jan Prichard, of the Alliance for Workforce Development, estimated business losses at $1.4 million. She has collected worksheets from 49 business owners, which outlined loss of revenue.
“There is a huge impact on a lot of businesses in the Almanor Basin,” she said. “There were almost 50 jobs lost; this is just the beginning for them.”
So far, the only financial relief for the business owners is available in the form of low-interest Small Business Administration loans. Supervisor Sherri Thrall said that many businesses rely on the lucrative short summer season to get them through the winter. She questioned how they could afford to make loan payments when there would be no money coming in.
She was also concerned about the lingering impact the fire would have on the economy.
She feared publicity about the fire would keep people from visiting the Almanor Basin.
“Good point,” Supervisor Jon Kennedy said. “The perception is that it is all burned up.”
He said not all of the 76,000 acres that burned were high intensity.
During a follow-up interview Sipe said he was awaiting a breakdown from the Forest Service.
Thrall said after a recent meeting with Ted Gaines, the area’s state senator, Gaines assured her he was committed to running public service announcements saying the area “is still beautiful.”
She said some merchants are already running advertisements on Reno television stations.
Thrall said she also was concerned about the “long-term effects of people breathing smoke.”
Sipe said Seneca was tracking whether there was an increase in the number of respiratory complaints during the fire, but that wouldn’t address long-term issues.
The board voted to extend the local emergency to allow more time to calculate losses.
Sipe said he remains hopeful that if a persuasive case can be built, that there could be some financial relief for the private and public entities affected.
“We need to have a strong and compelling case,” he said.
The supervisors have questioned the events that surrounded the Chips Fire and whether the Forest Service acted quickly enough and with enough resources to stop the fire.
Plumas National Forest Deputy Supervisor Laurence Crabtree provided a timeline of events to the supervisors. The board decided to study the information and then formally ask for more data if it deemed that step necessary.