“It’s all just very surreal,” said Neal, the owner of Flowers by Rachelle in Chico, California, and a member of the Society of American Florists. “The [Camp Fire] got within a mile of our shop, but my family and I are OK. Unfortunately, one of my employees and her family most likely lost their home. It’s a horrible situation.”
At least 48 people have been killed by the fire, with about 200 people still missing. An estimated 8,800 structures, most of them homes, have been destroyed. Elsewhere in the state, the Woolsey Fire is west of Los Angeles; the Hill Fire, in Ventura County, is reported to be 90 percent contained. The fires have not directly affected California’s major flower growing regions.
For Neal, a former president of the American Institute of Floral Designers’ Northwest Region, the past few days have been an emotional rollercoaster, with heartbreaking stories pouring in. “I know so many people who have lost everything,” she said. “It’s very smoky everywhere. You hear about these [disasters] on the news, but until you’ve physically walked around and talked to people, it’s really hard to imagine.”
Because she did not have to evacuate, Neal has been going to her store every day for a shortened workday, along with a small crew of employees. They had a handful of orders on Tuesday and are catching up on a few tasks, mainly to stay busy. Neal has been careful not to expose her team to unnecessary risks — beyond the immediate danger of the fires, poor air quality from the smoke remains a concern. The economic toll on Chico’s small businesses is hard to fathom right now, Neal said, but it’s also far from what she and others are focused on.
“I keep reaching out to people who have lost so much, and they keep saying, ‘No, I’m OK. I have enough. Go help someone who’s worse off,’” she said. “The humanity is overwhelming.”
Marty Espe of Flora Fresh Inc. Wholesale Flowers in Sacramento said he’s been in touch with florists who safely evacuated from Paradise, California, a town destroyed by the fire, along with retailers who were evacuated from Chico.
“The spirit of the people is strong,” Espe said, noting that at least one customer already had started preliminary plans to re-open by February. “Even though it will take a long time, I see Paradise, California, returning to some sort of normalcy [after the fire].”
Kasey Cronquist, PFCI, CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission, and Michael LoBue, CEO of CalFlowers, the California Association of Flower Growers and Shippers, confirmed that the industry’s growing regions are outside of the fires.
“The Camp Fire in Butte County is in a part of the state with no flower growers,” LoBue said. “The fire south of Ventura and previously threatening Malibu is also a part of the state with no growers, although there are some very close to Ventura. I inquired yesterday about those members and was informed that it’s ‘business as usual.’”
Hortica has prepared a brief sheet with advice on how floral industry businesses can prepare their businesses before, after and during a wildfire. Read more.
Look for more coverage in future issues of SAF publications.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management.