In Northern California, small businesses are struggling to stay open following monstrous wildfires that have ravaged the area since Sunday.  

"It's scary and apocalyptic," says Sarah Robbins, head of customer service for Humble Abode, an online furniture retailer headquartered in Santa Rosa. She was driving to the company's office on Monday morning near Coffee Park when embers the size of dimes fell from the sky, forcing her to turn around. "You walk down the sidewalk and it is covered in ash. I've never seen anything like it--Santa Rosa is a flourishing city and Sonoma and Napa are also beautiful, but now it looks like a third world country."

Robbins and her colleagues have been working remotely from home as Cal Fire works to contain the flames -- although two employees have lost their homes. Humble Abode's own office is still standing, as are its processing and delivery warehouses. The company has appeared on the Inc. 5000 four times between 2007 and 2013.

It's unclear how many business have been impacted by the fires, which the New York Times reports have left 31 people dead and hundreds missing, with over 220,000 acres of land devoured by flames. About 20,000 people have evacuated their homes and over 3,500 buildings have been destroyed. Bloomberg estimates that damage to the wine industry alone could top $100 million.

Jeff Stevenson, the founder of VinoPro, a Santa Rosa company that sells wine for Napa and Sonoma-area wineries, evacuated his home on Taylor Mountain on Monday. Stevenson, his wife, and dog and cat are living in an RV parked in front of one of his company's two offices in the area.

"It's surreal," he says. "It's like a nuclear bomb went off."

Stevenson, whose house is still standing but inaccessible, says his neighbors aren't so lucky. Every few minutes, he says, you can see the airplanes dropping flame retardant down on the inferno. All of his employees are accounted for, but some have lost their homes. As for his business, he says he is back at work, on the phone, trying to sell as much wine as he can to help his winery partners.

"If you want to support Napa and Sonoma, buy wine," says Stevenson.

About 10 percent of the wineries he works with have lost their properties and grapes to the fires, including Paradise Ridge Winery. The majority of his clients, from Iron Horse to Beringer, are safe. Also, he says, the majority of wineries across Napa have already harvested their grapes and barreled them, which means the 2017 vintage wines will not be ruined.

As for VinoPro, Steveson says he is running a skeleton crew because most of his staff cannot get to the offices.

"October is the biggest month for wine sales--we do over $1 million easily," says Stevenson. "But this month, we will probably only do half, which affects us and our winery partners."

Although most of VinoPro's clients' wineries are still standing, a growing list in the area have burned as the fires are still not contained. Family winery Signorello Estate is in ruins. Mayacamas Vineyards, Paras, Roy Estate, Segassia Vineyard, Stag's Leap, White Rock, VinRoc, and others suffered damage, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

California's other agricultural industry, legal marijuana, is also in the path of the fire.

CannaCraft, a Santa Rosa medical marijuana products manufacturer, didn't lose its manufacturing facility or headquarters, but it lost a few cultivation sites and a cannabis storage room. Dennis Hunter, the company's CEO, says CannaCraft will be able to deal with the damage it suffered, but smaller, family farms will be hit hardest.

"The fires are hurting the growers the most--we were weeks from harvest. There are a lot of smaller farmers and the October harvest is everything to them," he says.

Hunter opened his headquarters to the American Red Cross, which is using 12,000 square feet of space to run its regional fire relief headquarters.

Emily Paxhia, co-founder of marijuana investment fund Poseidon Asset Management, says it's too early to asses the full extent of the damage but she says it could be catastrophic for many businesses with a total of hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.

Stevenson of VinoPro adds that if for you're a lucky business owner whose home and offices are still in tact, it's time to help.

"As business leaders in the community, it's time to lead--we have to be calm, collected, and come in and lead," he says. "Your employees might not have a house. If you still have a business to run, you have employees and an entire community to support."

Published on: Oct 13, 2017