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Uncertainty and devastation as California retailers and industry members are scorched by wildfires

Published October 13, 2017
UPDATED: At least three CamelBak employees lose houses as fires damage homes and trails, force evacuations.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (BRAIN) — Retailers, industry suppliers and other members of the cycling community in California are living through scary times as multiple wildfires scorch some of the country's most popular riding areas, including the Napa Valley.

So far there are no reports of direct damage to any businesses, but the Santa Rosa homes of former pro racer Levi Leipheimer and Cannondale's Silvano Rastelli were both destroyed. Several popular mountain bike areas in the Napa Valley and near Anaheim Hills have been burned, and it's not clear when the areas will reopen to riding.

At least three CamelBak employees lost homes, and friends have set up a GoFundMe page to help them rebuild.

At the Trek Store of Santa Rosa, one employee has lost a home to the fire, while two others have been evacuated.

"There are still a lot of unknowns," said David Whitehead, sales lead at the store. Whitehead said many popular riding areas are closed and the air quality makes riding nearly impossible in any case. At least two groups have canceled bike rentals from the store in recent days and the long-term effect on nearby trail systems is uncertain.

"We're playing it minute by minute. We closed at 4 yesterday and we'll probably close early today. There isn't a lot of business, but we did get a phone call from a family that lost its home and they want to buy all new bikes for the family," he said.

Leipheimer reported on social media that his home was destroyed. "I lost my house but not my home here in Sonoma County. We WILL make it through this," he wrote on Twitter. The fires came a week after thousands of cyclists rode on Leipheimer's favorite area roads during Levi's GranFondo on Sept. 29.

Rastelli, who does team and event support for Cannondale, was safely at an event out of town during the fire, but lost all his belongings and his cat. Friends have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help him rebuild. 

Nearby, Sonoma Valley Cyclery is open but manager Brenna Sahs is concerned about the long-term damage to mountain bike trails.

"As of now (store employees) are OK and no one has been evacuated," she said. "No one is riding. Skyline won't be rideable for a while; it was raging last night," she said, referring to Skyline Wilderness Park, a popular riding area in Napa.

In Orange County, the Anaheim Hills fire ripped through Santiago Oaks, a very popular riding area.

"That's going to affect us. It will probably be closed for a year," said Chuck Allen, assistant manager at Rock N' Road Cyclery, a well-known mountain bike shop with three locations in Orange County, including one in Anaheim Hills. Allen said no employees had lost homes or been evacuated, but several live adjacent to the evacuation zones.

The fires have brought retail business to a standstill, he said.

"Monday it completely killed our business. It was pretty slow yesterday and it's slow today. It will be slow until things are contained."

The homes of many industry members in California have been threatened and some have been evacuated.

Lance Camisasca, the founder of PressCamp, was evacuated from his home Monday but returned Tuesday to find it undamaged.

Seth Beiden, the owner of Dawn Patrol Public Relations, also was evacuated but returned to find his home OK. Beiden reported on social media that employees at CamelBak, his former employer and one of his company's clients, are donating time to local evacuation shelters. CamelBak has donated 125 gallon filtered water units to area shelters.

Scot Nicol, the founder of Ibis, also was evacuated from his Santa Rosa home and returned Tuesday to find no damage. "We were very lucky," Nicol said on his Facebook page. "Others around us not so much. There is devastation everywhere. The power is out it’s dark from the smoke, the air is still and acrid, feels apocalyptic."

Leipheimer at his former house in Santa Rosa, from his Instagram feed.

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