From Beyond The Line of Fire: Living through largest single fire in California History

Kristin York

Kristin York

Vice President

As we contemplated go-bag contents and watched the relentless advance of the Beckwourth, River, Tamarack, and especially the Dixie fire over the last few weeks, one of our dearest Small Business Development Center counselors, Clint Koble was smack in the middle of the devastation. Clint lives at and manages a resort in Chester along Lake Almanor. Over the course of several days, Clint holed up at the resort, guarded by the command of firefighters he so graciously hosted. The firefighters instructed him to park his car on the boat ramp and to take refuge in the car should the flames approach – they would protect him. 

Over the course of several weeks, Clint provided daily reports of the devastation and despair, and we felt compelled to share his experience and the unseen implications to give some perspective of the impact on small rural towns devastated by wildfire. 

From Clint, August 3, 2021: 

Yesterday, I had to drive to Chico for some personal business.  As I got west of Chester on my way to Chico, the air quality cleared up but upon my return, it was worse than ever. The AQI in Chester is 500, which is terrible, but better than last week… the town looks deserted because it is. Resorts, hotels, and many businesses are shut down in the heart of the 100-day season. Anyone day of no business in that 100 days hurts a lot. Businesses are not only closed because of a lack of customers; employees are cut off from work because of closed roads. There are no restaurants open in Lake Almanor.

The Post Offices are closed and the mail is being routed to Chico. Are you kidding me? All but one road to Chico is closed anyway. That is terribly disruptive.

Forest Service Offices have remained closed since March of last year. When there were customers this year, the Chambers and Visitors Centers had to carry the Forest Service’s water for free. All we get are reports of devastation and nothing else.

Waste Management has suspended all curbside operations. We can’t even voluntarily haul our trash to the dump. People are driving around with their pickup trucks loaded with garbage.

There is much more pain to describe but I know you get the picture. Plumas County is now in the throes of a Triple Whammy: First the Pandemic, then the drought, and now the wildfires. The drought has dried up lakes and resulted in boat ramps that are far from whatever water is left. The boat rental business has tanked for the second consecutive year. Some Forest Service campgrounds were closed before the fires due to the drought…

I know there will be relief coming; my hope is that it will be worth the time and paper that it comes on. I’m sorry to be in such a bad mood this morning, but everywhere I look in the place that I love, there is devastation and I’m left wondering “who really cares about us”?

I know you care and that the Sierra SBDC cares, and I’m grateful to be on your team. I hope we can help when this is all over, but it may be weeks before that happens according to the firefighters in our resort. For resort owners like me and my friends, can we deduct the amount of rental that we are donating every day? We are not only donating a free place to stay, but we also give them fresh towels and bars of soap every day, as well as providing bed linens. People are buying them food when they can.

For Clint and the Sierra SBDC, our job is to help small businesses start, grow, and thrive. While Sierra Business Council serves the entire Sierra region, the Small Business Development Center focuses on the seven northeastern counties including Plumas, Lassen, Placer, and Nevada counties where devastating wildfires have impacted our neighbors. Our response to Clint’s question is, SBC cares about you. We care deeply and we work every day to bring you assistance, hope, and a voice in Sacramento and Washington so that our public agencies and elected leaders can finally take these wildfires seriously and deploy resources needed to protect and save our forests and rural communities. 

The day after Greenville was literally burned off the face of the earth, we received another update from Clint:

People are full of fire fatigue; some have evacuated several times. Businesses have been hit hard throughout Plumas County. On top of that, a COVID-19 outbreak has hit Plumas County, the worst since last spring. We will get through this, I’m sure. We will be stronger than ever.

As of this writing, the Dixie fire has achieved the dubious distinction of being the largest single fire in California history at over 700,000 square miles and Clint has let us know he is still sticking it out at Lake Almanor “in a donut, like the eye of a hurricane”. SBC honors the indomitable spirit of our beloved business counselor Clint and all of our neighboring communities suffering through the worst fire season on record and we are committed to fighting for you. Every. Single. Day.

Images courtesy Clint Koble.

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