A one-stop assistance center for Napa County wildfire victims opened Monday morning, jammed with providers who can offer all kinds of services, including grants and insurance tips and help with getting lives on the road to recovery.
Located at the county’s South Napa Campus, the center will be open all week and beyond to help the untold number of Napa County residents and businesses who have suffered losses and will continue to suffer losses.
The U.S. Small Business Administration offers loans to both home owners and businesses. SBA spokesman William Koontz said applying costs nothing and gives people options against the unexpected.
Even those with fire insurance might want to apply for federal loans before the Dec. 11 deadline, he said.
“Your insurance recovery may be less than you think you will get,” Koontz said. “And the cost to rebuild may be more than you think it will cost.”
For example, insurance may not pay the full amount to rebuild an older structure to current codes, he said. It may not cover some damage, such as underground, melted, plastic plumbing pipes.
People who apply for a loan by Dec. 11 have six months to decide whether to actually take it, Koontz said.
“Apply, apply, apply,” Koontz urged.
Napa County has yet to release definitive figures on how many people lost homes within its borders during the Atlas, Nuns and Tubbs fires. Cal Fire reports more than 4,000 structures destroyed in the region, but the bulk of these are in Sonoma County.
The 51,064-acre Atlas Fire, which was largely in Napa County, destroyed 343 structures and damaged 50, according to Cal Fire.
Koontz said the SBA offers loans of up to $200,000 to replace primary residences. It offers loans up to $40,000 to cover for personal possession losses, both to homeowners and renters. The interest rate is as low as 1.75 percent for 15-year and 30-year loans.
Business owners can borrow up to $2 million to pay for destroyed and damaged buildings, inventory and other losses. The interest rate is as low as 3.3 percent.
They can also borrow money if their business is impacted not by direct fire damage, but by the post-fire economy. Koontz said that perhaps their customers have been displaced or a supplier burnt down and business owners need money to pay the bills.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of this kind of lending activity in the footprint of the fire, where the fire has impacted the communities,” he said.
In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers disaster grants of up to $33,000 for such needs as housing repair and replacement and temporary housing.
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services came to provide information about debris removal. The county doesn’t want residents pulling up to the remains of their fire-wrecked homes in pickups to haul off debris that may contain asbestos and other toxic materials.
“There’s no reason to when we’re going to do it for you,” said Cindy Worthington of the county. “Don’t put yourself at risk; let the professionals do it for you.”
A county notice said property owners can sign up for free hazardous waste removal and debris removal under a state program. They can also opt to submit cleanup plans to the county and do the work at their own expense.
The county Assessor’s Office has a booth at the assistance center to offer information about property taxes. The county can remove the value of a destroyed house or reduce the value of a damaged house. It can also delay the Dec. 10 first installment of the 2017-18 property tax bill.
County Mental Health had a booth in the assistance center. Agency Director Bill Carter said some fire victims have lost everything and have had frightening evacuation experiences that started with someone knocking loudly on their doors in the middle of the night.
“As folks come in, if they’re experiencing distress, we will meet with them,” Carter said.
Other services at the center include helping fire victims replace destroyed birth certificates and other vital documents and receive information on insurance and California taxes.
“These government disaster loans are nothing like a bank loan in terms of what’s possible,” Koontz said.