Retailers respond to SoCal fires

San Diego As the fourth day of wild fires continued to burn through Southern California, lumberyards and hardware stores in affected areas remain open for business, despite smoke, dwindling supplies, and in some cases, mandatory evacuation orders.

Mark Dickman, general manager of Ramona Ace Hardware, had to dodge the authorities Sunday night as they evacuated his rural San Diego County town. Dickman slept in the back of his family’s store on Main Street. Dickman was joined by coworker Ryan Carter; store employees Byron Haggard, Jon Grace, and Evelyn May came in the next day and worked 12-hour shifts, until other employees were able to relieve them.

“A lot of people stayed up here, and I needed to be open for them,” he explained.

Business was brisk on Monday, and by Tuesday, Dickman was selling out of generators, PVC pipe and trashcans. Ace Hardware sent a delivery truck from its distribution center in Prescott, Ariz., only to have it turned back at a roadblock.

Then fortune smiled on Ramona Ace Hardware. A high-ranking sheriff department official walked into the store, heard about the aborted shipment and gave Dickman his cell phone number. Daily deliveries from Prescott are now getting through.

Dozens of structures have burned in Ramona, where evacuation orders were lifted last night, allowing residents back into their homes.

There have been no reports of lumberyards or hardware stores destroyed by the fires, although some retailers did close temporarily. San Diego-based Dixieline Lumber locked the doors of its Poway location early on Monday when the area was evacuated. The store opened for a half day Tuesday, but was back to its regular hours on Wednesday.

Although the Witch fire has destroyed 805 homes in the Poway area and continues to burn, the Dixieline location was not in its path. “We weren’t in any imminent danger,” said sales manager Robert Shiflet. While contractor business is light today, the store is selling lots of face masks, respirators, generators, brooms, chainsaws and reciprocating saws. Residents are using the power tools to clear trees and other debris from roads and long driveways, Shiflet explained.

Closer to Los Angeles, business is slow at Butcher’s True Value in Big Bear Lake. “The schools are closed, and everyone is staying indoors,” said a cashier interviewed by phone. People are concerned about air quality, she said, adding, “We’ve got one [face] mask left.”

Home channel retailers are putting dollar signs behind their fire relief efforts. Home Depot donated $20,000 to the Salvation Army, $12,000 to the Red Cross and $10,000 in boxes, tape, shrink wrap and pallets to help relief workers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The retailer had to evacuate and close two stores, in Poway and Otay Mesa, but they have since reopened, said Home Depot spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher.

Wal-Mart and Target have both donated $1 million in cash and/or supplies to relief efforts.

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