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California Businesses Reopen, Defying Nightmarish Inferno

What do you do if you're a business owner returning to face down California's most devastating modern fire? You flip the sign to “Open” and say, "Not today!"

Posted on / Via Twitter: @VCFD_PIO

Hundreds of business owners and workers in the mandatory evacuation area surrounding California’s Thomas fire finally returned to their jobs this week, even though the blaze remains only 55 percent contained as of December 20, 2017. Undaunted by the raging inferno just down the road and staring down fires set by the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) to deplete fuel ahead of the conflagration, companies hung out their placards and flipped the open signs for the first time in days or even weeks.

Photos from nearby areas, including Montecito, which was threatened by the flames as recently as Monday, showed restaurants and shops open for business and joyous celebrations as locals were reunited with friends and family following the evacuation. Tearful and emotional reunions also took place as some found only shock and horror due to the devastation of lost homes or businesses. This all occurred with the backdrop of a hellish landscape of fire and scorched earth that stretches well into the Anaheim Hills area as the Thomas inferno continues to grow into the largest fire in modern Californian history.

Courtesy of the Ventura County Fire Department / Via Twitter: @VCFD_PIO

According to the L.A. Times, Larry Nobles, wine director at Lucky’s Steakhouse, says “(The Thomas fire) looked like Armageddon coming at you. Everybody had something packed.” The Times also quotes Jason Herrick, one of the owners of Montecito’s Liquor and Wine Grotto, who says that the fires have delivered the worst year for sales since 2009.

The VCFD confirms the state has spent over $150 million battling the Thomas inferno, which may actually pale in comparison to the cost when all is totaled. The fire is not expected to be contained until approximately one month after it started, on or around January 7, 2018. The toll on the economy could be even greater than the firefighting costs, and many businesses will have to rely on commercial property and business income insurance to rebuild and pay their workers following the devastating effects of the inferno. The Ventura County United Way has set up a donations page to assist individuals recovery from the Thomas fire.

Celebrities including Rob Lowe and Rosie O’Donnell have taken to social media to thank local firefighters and expand awareness of the conflagration. James Woods tweeted “#GodBlesstheFirefighters” in support of the efforts taken to contain the blaze and protect local shops and homes. The fire has already claimed the life of at least one courageous firefighter, 32-year-old Cory Iverson. It holds threats for many more not only in heat and intensity but also with potential exposure to hazardous materials and asbestos. These materials often survive in fire zones long after the high temperatures and immediate burn threats have past, and they can linger and cause health problems for decades to come.

Santa Ana winds moving through the area are expected to make firefighting much more dangerous and business operation even more daunting in the week to come. The winds threaten to move the fire even further outside of the containment zone and spark new, smaller blazes throughout the area. The Thomas inferno has already claimed over 750 homes and more than 30 businesses in the area. As of December 20, 2017, it covers 271,750 acres of land and threatens 18,000 structures.

United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue noted months ago that 2017 is already the costliest year for firefighting in American history, with over $2 billion spent on suppressing fires prior to the recent blazes in California. He advised Congress that all of the money that would normally be spent on fire prevention is instead being funneled to fire suppression, eliminating preventative efforts that could stop forest fires from turning into such dangerous conflagrations that disrupt business and can even cost lives.

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