Last year, Anthony David paid off his house, the original Brentwood Estates cabin in the Black Forest. Two weeks later, it burned to the ground in the Black Forest fire.
“We lost everything,” David said.
Four weeks before the fire, David launched a business, the Black Forest Mill, in business to create furniture – tables and mantles from pine.
After the fire, the business initially performed charity work, cleaning up the debris in the forest. In exchange, David harvested forest materials.
“We were able to get a lot of raw material. We did get an influx of wood, but I certainly wish we would have gotten it another way,” David said.
“In one regard, it was a business killer,” David said of the fire. “We’re still in the red, but eventually, if it continues like this, I think we’ll do all right.”
Now, David and his crew are creating furniture for victims of the fire from burnt trees harvested from their lots.
Black Forest business owners reported mixed results in business success since the fire that destroyed 486 homes, damaged 37 and caused more than $85 million in damage.
The month after the fire, July 2013, was “one of our best months ever, because so many people were meeting here,” said Ryan Wanner, owner of the R&R Coffee Café.
Many of the meetings with architects and insurance agents took place at the restaurant.
“One of my proudest moments was looking out over the dining room and seeing almost every table with architectural plans spread out over them one afternoon,” Wanner said. “Yes, people are going to rebuild.”
The positive business in July sharply contrasted the business in February, when it was “too cold to work,” Wanner said.
Sales in July 2013 were 30 percent higher than what the business forecasted, and sales in February 2014 were 30 percent lower, so altogether, “we were just about where we were at before the fire,” Wanner said.
The future is uncertain, he added.
“Any plan we had for what business was going to do for the next four years is just gone. A lot of us are just seeing what the next day brings, which is not a good way to do business,” Wanner said. “But the reality is 500 displaced families. We’ve lost our core of regulars.”
Mountain View Electric, the electric cooperative serving the Black Forest, hired contractor Asplundh to trim or cull 20,000 trees after the fire. A total of 18 tree trimmers worked the area at the peak of employment, said Member Services Manager Darryl Edwards.
“They still have another month of work to do,” said Edwards.
Edwards said the tree workers stayed in The Reserve, Embassy Suites and a bed and breakfast nearby; they ate at Subway and the R&R Coffee Café, and some of them signed up at Planet Fitness on Powers Boulevard.
“They rented about three bobcats locally,” Edwards said. “Of course, all the gas that went into their vehicles was all from the Black Forest area, and the hotel expenses just for housing the crews, if you do the math, is well over $300,000 in accommodations.
“If we kept going with that, it’s well over $500,000 that was pumped into our economy, just for tree service,” Edwards said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay up to 75 percent the cost of tree removal and repair work on the lines that were destroyed or damaged, he said.
Trees outside Mountain View’s easement that threatened electric lines have been targeted, Edwards said. Property owners who own those trees must reach agreement with Mountain View regarding “if they were to fail, they would damage our lines,” he said. “If a tree were to fall on our line, there would be a conversation over who would be responsible.”
In addition to the trees, the cooperative had to replace or repair 41 miles of electric line.
Edwards estimated the work to total near $11 million. The estimate includes $6 million in tree removal and $5 million in infrastructure.
Edwards said the fire won’t affect residents’ electric rates “in the short-term. Long-term debt will affect the rates long-term.
“I don’t want to say this type of disaster doesn’t affect our rates. It’s just one piece of many factors that will affect rates in the future,” Edwards said.
Four of the tree-cutters stayed at the Black Forest Bed and Breakfast, said owner Susie Wilson.
That helped the innkeeper, who typically has little business in January and February.
“Winter is my down season, so I had rental income. It was a help,” Wilson said. “I’m the only housing in the forest … but somebody has to feed them.”
After the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012, Wilson housed seven families, and all of them had only their cars and items they took from their homes.
“Hard to imagine a year later, all I had was my car,” the computer, memorabilia and the goose, chicken, dogs and cats, she said.
The fire has done substantial financial damage to Tri-Lakes Disposal, which provides trash service to the Black Forest.
“We lost a lot of revenue,” said owner Brian Belland.
The construction companies hired to rebuild homes are bringing their own Dumpsters, or hiring other companies, “which is fine,” Belland said.
“The residential customers are starting to move back to the area, and we’re starting to see some of the revenue — $4,500 to $5,000 a month — that we were losing.”
At the Black Forest Mill, David said he and his family will rebuild on their lot.
“We will plant trees, so we’re not living on a moonscape,” David said.
“My goal is to do what we can to rebuild.”