Lumber, building supply dealers see business surge a year after Northern California wildfires

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Following debris removal by US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) contractors, one homeowner starts rebuilding in Coffey Park. More than 1,200 properties were cleared in Coffey Park, located in Santa Rosa, Ca. The Corps, under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and in partnership with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, is removing ash and fire-related debris in Northern California following the October 2017 wildfires. (Photo by Mike DeRusha)

Northern California lumber and building supply dealers are seeing a surge in business a  year after the devastating wildfire emergency.

The North Bay Business Journal (NBBJ), serving communities near San Francisco, reports that there was a lull through the holidays and winter months and a six month period of relatively slow demand, except for emergency plywood and weatherproofing.

However, the pace of rebuilding activity started to rebound in earnest five months ago, evidenced by visible construction activity in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, Mark West and Larkfield neighborhoods, Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley and other areas with widespread devastation, the publication reports.

Melanie Fivella, manager of Bedrossians Tile & Stone in Santa Rosa, said sales have increased dramatically porcelain tile that looks like wood planking as an alternative to traditional wood or laminate flooring.

Homeowner and contractor rebuilding activity got a late start due to time lags in reaching settlements from insurance companies and the inability to find enough available contractors for home repairs or new construction, the NBBJ reported.

“The dispute arising from the Trump Administration’s displeasure with the previous NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) agreement and the imposition of higher tariffs has definitely affected prices for imported wood from British Columbia, but the possibility of a pending settlement has moderated prices somewhat,” said Bruce Berry, owner of Berry’s Sawmill in the west Sonoma County community of Cazadero.

“(E)very aspect associated with our building material transactions is moving faster now than 12 months ago, with our current sales volume 25 percent larger than in 2017,” said Healdsburg Lumber Company owner Eric Ziedrich.

He said earlier this year, lumber prices were at an all-time high, especially for Canadian products.

“This really impacted us,” Ziedrich said. “Twenty years ago a lot of lumber was produced in Northern California, now we rely more on wood from Oregon and Washington state as well as from (British Columbia) suppliers. Pricing peaked about three or four months ago — from the highest level we have seen since the 1980s. However, the number of new homes and those being rebuilt is way below historic levels.”

There are challenge with deliveries and labor supply.

“This shift in our product mix was definitely influenced by the fires,” said Burgess Lumber manager Adam Burgess. “Previously, we were not a big framing yard, but times change and emergencies can cause a sudden realignment of inventory.”

He said in normal market times, ordering just-in-time supplies to replenish inventory is an industry practice.

“Now we are striving to obtain a three-to-four week supply so we don’t run out,” Burgess said. “Another glitch in the supply chain is that there are fewer drivers at mills in Oregon today on hand to deliver wood products to us, which has also resulting in having to increase our inventory levels by 60 percent.”

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, the 2017 California wildfire season was the most destructive on record. A total of 9,133 fires burned 1,381,405 acres (5,590.35 km2), including five of the 20 most destructive wildland-urban interface fires in the state’s history.

Throughout 2017, the fires destroyed or damaged more than 10,000 structures (destroyed 9,470, damaged 810), a higher tally than the previous nine years combined, Wikipedia reports.

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