Dozens of bank branches in northern California were forced to close Wednesday as uncontrolled wildfires cut a wide path of destruction through a region renowned for winemaking.
Bank of America reported that 24 of its branches were closed Wednesday. JPMorgan Chase closed 11 braches, Wells Fargo shuttered 10, and Bank of the West closed six. And that was just a partial tally.
Bankers said that their top priority was the safety of their employees as conditions worsened. “There’s a lot of wind today, and the fire’s kicked back up,” Jim Brush, the CEO of Summit State Bank in Santa Rosa, said in a phone interview.
Summit State Bank has two branches in Santa Rosa, both of which were closed Wednesday, and three branches elsewhere in northern California that remain open. The bank’s landline phones have not been working, so officials turned to email to inform customers that the bank is still operating.
Brush said that among the $537 million-asset bank’s 82 employees, two have lost their homes, and four more have been evacuated.
“We are saddened by the devastating loss our community has sustained and hope that you, your family, your business, employees and animals are safe,” the bank wrote in a Facebook post.
The fast-moving fires, which started early this week, have burned nearly 170,000 acres, state officials said. By Wednesday, 21 people were confirmed dead, and hundreds more were reported missing, according to news reports.
Napa and Sonoma counties have sustained much of the damage. In Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 located about 55 miles north of San Francisco, entire neighborhoods have been destroyed.
The California Bankers Association said that it is planning to inform its members about how they can provide assistance to fire-affected areas.
Bank branches were closed Wednesday for a variety of reasons. Some of them were located in evacuation areas. In other cases the branch’s electricity was out, or the air quality was poor enough that banks decided to close them.
Bank of the West said that roughly 35 of its employees have been evacuated from the region, and an unspecified number of its workers have lost their homes. The San Francisco-based bank has contributed $25,000 to a California wildfire fund established by the American Red Cross and said that it is matching employee donations.
“We continue to assess the status of the fires with local officials and are ready to mobilize support in the form of volunteers, food and other assistance as needed,” Ryan Bailey, head of retail banking at Bank of the West, said in an email.
Bank of America said that some of its employees have also been affected by the wildfires, and that money from an employee relief fund is available to support them.
Wells Fargo said that it is closely monitoring cash levels at branches and ATMs, and making sure that cash is delivered as frequently as possible. Wells also said that it is donating $100,000 to the American Red Cross and $50,000 to the Salvation Army.
“Some of our colleagues have lost homes, many are evacuated – yet some of these same team members have decided to go to work so they can help their neighbors access cash and take care of their financial needs,” Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido said in an email.