Monday, October 18, 2021

California wildfires: Costco buys and restocks items in wake of disaster

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Shares of Costco rose last week, taking them to a 12-year high, after one of the world’s largest private-sector retailers revealed plans to help people survive California’s disastrous wildfires by limiting sales of bottled water and taking other measures.

California wildfire: thousands evacuated as 1,000-plus blazes spark across state Read more

The firm said it would only accept orders for goods that would go into bulk bins, or clean, and it said it would suspend online orders for most items while the wildfires swept through Northern California. The affected region extends from San Francisco to the Oregon border.

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Costco chief financial officer Richard Galanti, credited customers with “standing by us” and he said the company did not intend to reduce the quality of its products in order to meet the fire demand.

Stores in many California grocery stores have gone dry. Assafir Alperovitz, who manages Whole Foods Market in Los Angeles, which has about two-thirds of its produce and dairy items destroyed in the fire, said: “It’s killing us. It’s incredible. This is the end of Christmas. It’s not the end of the end of the year.”

Costco and other Costco-like shops often manage high inventories in anticipation of holidays, so they are prepared for peak sales periods. Stores have gas stations with cash registers so customers can pay for purchases and there is always an outhouse available for sanitation purposes.

That means that warehouse stores, which typically have a couple of hundred employees, effectively control one of the primary functions of communities that have been evacuated during disasters. During wildfires they are one of the few jobs remaining in often abandoned communities where all businesses have burned down.

Many hardware stores, supermarkets and pharmacies have run out of water. At a section of a Costco in Santa Rosa, supplies are hard to come by.

Many visitors have been trying to drive their vehicles through the line of fire trucks parked outside in search of Starbucks coffee, chocolate and camping gear.

The toll of the disaster, which has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes, is increasing exponentially. A new segment of online buyers have flooded back in to fill their vehicles with water, food and gas, but the huge stores are all pressed to run them out.

There are firefighters and eager neighbors on both sides of the Costco, concerned that the building might get engulfed. Firefighters are writing orders to the shelves to take away limited items, and look on anxiously as the chain closes them.

A pilot flies his helicopter in on fire and decertification crew load a tanker load of water at Ventura County fire command centre on Monday. Photograph: Richard Vogel/AP

Galanti warned about negative impacts on the economy, particularly in towns that were decimated. He also suggested that the response from governments had been “disastrously slow”. “We’re really getting worried,” he said.

Things were finally looking up, though, after firefighters contained dozens of small flare-ups on Friday, including a wildfire that had crept up the Santa Cruz mountains above San Jose.

Fire chiefs are concerned that the massive inferno across California will continue to taper off, but are concerned that Sunday could bring a new storm to the greater San Francisco area. It could arrive as soon as Wednesday, bringing snow, rain and wind and, since it has already hit the area the precipitation that has fallen has helped firefighters contain some of the hot spots.

The California fire department has deployed 21,000 people to fight the fires.

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