Wildfires are becoming more familiar during the barbershop-talk lately. For some areas, fire is still on the horizon and dense smoke in the air that may, and often does have an effect on the local businesses, especially the local community industry that is tourist driven. As wildfires get larger and more expensive to fight, the side effects can also tip the local store budget towards the red.
Currently, the Pole Creek Fire a few miles outside Sisters, Oregon, has burned over 25,000 acres and officials say it may burn until winter as the fire creeps into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. A recent story from the Sisters local newspaper said a survey was conducted during the persistent smoky conditions that have plagued the town of a couple of thousand since early September.
The author of the survey said it is “completely across the board” and “everybody is getting affected.” Really, I ask, with over 800 firefighters camped out just a few miles down the road? She said food services, including restaurants, report a 40-to-50% drop in business. Grocery stores are seeing less traffic as locals leave town to escape the smoke. The town’s motels are seeing cancellations up to five weeks out with more expected.
I have to say, even for the smaller communities, this loss of business means big money! Do you think it could result in temporary lay-offs of staff, cutting special services, taking out a loan to cover overhead costs? Could it even put a small retailer out of business all together? This is an economic issue that many never think about. Well, I should say those who never experienced a large wildfire.
So who could be one of those stakeholders on a Firewise Board or creating a Fire Adapted Community? Definitely the business community and the Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start by asking a business leader to be a part of your Board to assist you to achieve your goal. By reaching out to the businesses they can help by offering their expertise and services by identifying community risks, promoting forms of WUI mitigation, reaching out to multiple audiences to reduce wildfire risks around the town, and maybe even support in the development of WUI safety standards or local ordinances to replace flammable roof coverings on all structures.
Remember that business owners and managers are often the leaders and lawmakers of communities and cities and they represent a part of your community that you personally engage with every day, which could even be that barbershop!