California practitioners weather the wildfires

Firefighters use flashlights to search the perimeter of a building at the Soda Rock Vineyards during the Kincade fire in Healdsburg, California, U.S., on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. The wildfire that erupted in Californias wine country minutes after a PG&E Corp. power line went down has prompted an expanded evacuation order, as officials warn high winds could drive the blaze toward one of the regions largest towns. Photographer: Phil Pacheco/Bloomberg
Firefighters at the Soda Rock Vineyards during the Kincade fire in late October.

Imagine a practice that has to run with its power cut. With the smell of smoke filling the lobby. With clients whose homes have burned down.

Right now, that’s a lot of California.

“Unfortunately, I have first-hand knowledge of this situation,” said Robert Seltzer, a CPA in Los Angeles. “My family was under voluntary evacuation from the Palisades and Getty fires. We had suitcases, photos, and important documents packed in our entryway so that we could leave with short notice. I did stay home one day when things looked the most dangerous.”

Wildfires are reportedly slowing in California due to calmer winds, but the danger remains from the combination of winds and tinder-dry brush. Over the weekend, new fires were reported, including near Burbank, near San Diego and between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Nevada border.

“One of my staff lives in Simi Valley and was affected by the Easy fire, and had to miss a couple days of work,” Seltzer said. “Another employee was affected by the fire earlier in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles.”

Over the past few weeks dozens of California counties and millions of residents have had their power cut – ostensibly to prevent wire overloads and more wildfires. Some 6,200 fires have been recorded, torching about 200,000 acres as of late October. Though many of the wildfires have been fully contained, the period from now through December is still expected to have the greatest fire potential.

“We’ve been getting the smoke from the fires, and sometimes it smells like it’s right across the street. The sun is an orange ball in the sky,” said Larry Pon, a CPA in Redwood City, in Silicon Valley. “We’re in the 21st Century, but it sure feels like a third-world country sometimes.”

Setting priorities

“The biggest fire this season, the Kincade Fire … incinerated parts of wine country in Sonoma County,” wrote Anthony Pugliese, CPA and CEO of the California Society of CPAs, in a recent message from the membership. “Further south, multiple wildfires continue spreading near Los Angeles and surrounding counties.”

“The wildfires have had a devastating impact on individuals and families,” Pugliese added. “In addition to the human toll, they have affected local and state economies, business owners, the professionals who advise them and the communities in which they operate. It will likely take years for some businesses to recover.”

CalCPA plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from its upcoming 2019 Wine Industry Conference to the Sonoma County Resilience Fund. “We will also be accepting donations to this fund from our members at the conference itself,” Pugliese said.

The society also offers a disaster-recovery page.

Last year’s California wildfires inflicted more than $13 billion in insured losses. Wildfires are also becoming increasingly recognized nationwide as a business risk.

“I personally don’t have business-interruption insurance because it’s expensive,” Pon said. “Now I wonder if it’s worth considering.”

“Since our office is in Century City, we don’t have an issue of wildfires for our building. The issue is how the wildfires affect me and my employees and our ability to be in the office,” Seltzer said. “Since our accounting software is web-based and our tax software is accessible via my staff’s computers from their homes, we don’t have to be in our office to work. However, if the power goes out in our neighborhoods, and it has, then our ability to work at home while looking after our homes is not possible.”

“We communicate with one another when these emergencies arise,” he added. “I’m fortunate in that my staff is very conscientious and loyal. I know that if it’s possible for them to work, they will. On the other hand, if these wildfires make that impossible, my staff knows that I understand that the health and safety of their families is the highest priority.”

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