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Numerous large California wildfires impact bike retail across the state

Published August 13, 2018

REDDING, Calif. (BRAIN) — Although residents are now out of harm’s way of the nearly 200,000-acre Carr Fire currently burning just outside of Redding, California, the fire’s impacts will be felt for months, if not years. More than a dozen large wildfires continue to burn in California, with several thousands acres destroyed as the state also endured the hottest July on record.

The Carr Fire, which ignited on July 23, forced Redding’s westside residential communities to evacuate as more than 1,000 houses burned. Parts of downtown Redding also evacuated as the fire jumped the Sacramento River and advanced into the city. Businesses closed for several days, including Chain Gang Bike Shop, which is located on the western edge of the city’s downtown.

The Carr fire has calmed, and is now more than 50 percent contained, but Chain Gang manager Jeff Owens said life is far from normal in this small northern California city. Besides terrible air quality that has kept cyclists off their bikes, many of Redding’s up-and-coming and established mountain bike trail networks were burned.

“All of the trails west of town burned, including some of our newest flow trails like the Enticer trail in the Swasey network and in Whiskeytown,” said Owens, who has worked at Chain Gang for the past 10 years. “We were just starting to get some traction with tourism for those trails. Pinkbike did a write-up about Enticer, and Redding was gaining some recognition for our riding. No one knows the extent of the damage, but we do know that Whiskeytown recreation area won’t be open for the rest of the summer.”

Owens said that some bridges on the 20-mile bike path along the Sacramento River also burned, closing down a popular road riding route. As a result, Chain Gang, which employs five people, has seen a drop in foot traffic as cycling is the last thing on people’s minds.

“But we just received a huge order from Giant, which is keeping us busy building those up. And some people are coming in with receipts for insurance purposes so they can replace the bikes they lost,” Owens said.

Comprised of the River and Ranch Fires, the Mendocino Complex last week officially became largest wildfire in California’s history at more than 300,000 acres. It forced Main Street Bicycles in Lakeport to close as residents evacuated to escape the River Fire. Owner Jeff Cramer said he was out of his shop for a week.

But now that he’s back in business, it’s the smoky air there that’s keeping people from riding.

“We aren’t in imminent danger, it’s contained on our side. We’re now just dealing with smoke and ash. The air quality is terrible, worse than when I lived in L.A.,” said Cramer, who has worked in bike retail since he was 14 and opened Main Street in 2010. “Everyone is on edge, walking around with masks on. A lot of people are chomping at the bit to get back to some normality but no one wants to go out in it.”


The Mendocino Complex didn’t burn the area’s prime mountain biking trails — those already burned in 2015 when the 76,000-acre Valley Fire scorched more than 80 percent of Boggs Mountain Demonstration Forest — but Cramer said even people leaving to ride in other destinations are feeling the impacts of the fires, as far away as Reno-Tahoe.

“Some folks are leaving to go ride elsewhere, and some go at times of the day when the air quality is better,” he said. “What’s ironic is that we typically have the cleanest air in the state because there isn’t any industry here. And people live here and come here for the open space and the forest, the riding and the outdoors. So when you lose that, you lose tourism dollars.”

In Southern California, the Holy Fire, which exploded midafternoon of August 6, has grown to more than 22,000 acres. The fire consumed the entire Trabuco Creek drainage in the Santa Ana Mountains, home to remote trails that were challenging to get to but featured some of the largest conifers in the range. The fire also destroyed 12 historic cabins in Trabuco Canyon, and has forced more than 20,000 residents in some Lake Elsinore communities to evacuate.

Orange County shops felt the Holy Fire’s impact as air quality decreased throughout last week and into the weekend. Additionally, the popular midweek Over-the-Hump race series, which routinely draws an average of 500 racers, canceled its race as the Holy Fire raged in the nearby mountains.

Mountain bike-focused retailer The Path Bike Shop owner Tani Walling said business slowed as smoke blanketed most of the county toward the end of the week.

 “We’ve had way less foot traffic. No one wants to test ride when it’s smoky,” said Walling, who opened the Path 20 years ago and operates two OC locations, including one in Live Oak Canyon adjacent to where the Holy Fire started. “We’ve been especially slow out at the Live Oak store. But before the fire, we were up all year, coming into the year up 16 percent. The week the fire started we were down 27 percent.”

In addition to the fire, persistent high temperatures and above-average humidity have plagued Southern California since early July, and retailers were feeling the impacts of the inhospitable riding weather long before the Holy Fire ignited on August 6. Walling said people were troopers when the heat wave kicked off with 110-degree temperatures around the 4th of July, but the longer the heat lingered, the less people felt compelled to ride.

Rock n’ Road Cyclery owner Matt Ford said his four stores have been slower more due to the heat than the effects of the Holy Fire. While walk-in traffic slowed on the smokiest days, Ford said his sales have dwindled somewhat as July and August have heated up. But the loss of some trails in the area will impact mountain bikers in Orange County.

“The heat these last few weeks has played a much bigger factor on sales. Our [county] parks didn’t burn, which is a good thing,” said Ford, who opened the first Rock n’ Road store in 1992. “I think the more hard core riders and our staff who ride Holy Jim and the Trabuco trail are upset about what that means. They’re more affected than the average person I think, as they’re using the space a bit more.”.

Most shops to the east of the Santa Ana Mountains and the Holy Fire remained open for business as firefighting efforts continued over the weekend. One repair shop in Lake Elsinore, Vincent’s Bicycle Repair, appeared to be closed Saturday but south in Murrieta, Alan’s Bike Shop was busier than owner Riley Russell expected.

“We saw flames from the shop but we never got the smoke. Elsinore is 5-8 miles from us, and as long as the wind is blowing north, we won’t get it,” said Russell, who opened the second Alan’s Bike Shop in 2010 after his father acquired the original location in Oceanside in 2004. “People are still coming in and did even through the high heat we’ve been having.”

In Corona, which is located north of the Holy Fire, Citrus Cyclery reported that sales were down by about half the first part of August compared to the last two weeks in July. Ash and smoke there has also kept people indoors.

Also in Southern California, the Cranston Fire, also arson caused, scorched just over 13,000 acres in early August. Idyllwild, a small town in the San Jacinto mountains that tower above Palm Springs, was mostly unburned even though fire surrounded it on three sides. The fire also impacted an area that had only just reopened to mountain bikers this year following the Mountain Fire, which burned 27,500 acres in the Hurkey Creek area in 2013. The Cranston Fire burned parts of the town’s Hub trail network, as well as some in the Hurkey Creek area.

The Cranston Fire is now 100 percent contained, and the majority of California’s large fires are seeing gains in containment as weather worked in firefighters’ favor over the weekend.

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