Fighting fire with funding

Andrew Ryback and Mike Beatty Construction Greenville Branch

Plumas Bank CEO and delegate for ICBA’s Federal Delegate Board Andrew Ryback (right) assesses the Dixie Fire’s damage to downtown Greenville, Calif., with Donavon Beatty from Beatty Construction. Photos courtesy Plumas Bank

In the wake of the devastating Dixie Fire in northeastern California, Plumas Bank partnered with a local community foundation, forming the Dixie Fire Fund with a $50,000 bank donation. Since then, Plumas Bank has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars more for ongoing relief efforts.

By Paul Sisolak

As a fixture of the Quincy, Calif., community, Plumas Bank has seen its share of wildfires, which have blighted northeastern California in recent years.

First came the devastating Camp and Carr Fires in 2018; Plumas Bank donated $25,000 to two school districts and the Redding Trail Alliance, which were affected by the Carr Fire. Next was the North Complex Fire in 2020. Then, in July 2021, the Dixie Fire—one of the most destructive—destroyed homes and businesses, displacing residents from Plumas County and four others.

“The fire took many turns and created its own weather patterns,” says BJ North, executive vice president and chief banking officer of the $1.6 billion-asset community bank. “It moved so quickly and would change directions on a dime.”

“We lost a branch. We had a team member and clients throughout the county devastated. We decided we wanted to do something.”
—BJ North, Plumas Bank

Within a month, over 20% of the bank’s team members were temporarily without shelter, and one employee lost her home. Protracted seasonal droughts combined with high winds exacerbated the fire, which burnt nearly 964,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,300 structures by the time it was fully extinguished in October.

Amid the destruction, Plumas Bank acted fast.

“It’s in our backyard,” North says. “We lost a branch. We had a team member and clients throughout the county devastated. We decided we wanted to do something.”

A community consortium

By August, one month into the fire, Plumas Bank decided that a monetary reserve for disaster relief and community recovery was the best way it could help—but since it didn’t have the necessary 501(c)3 status, it partnered with the Community Foundation of Northern Nevada to establish the fund.

“Plumas Bank approached [us] and asked if we would establish a fund to provide emergency hardship support and aid in the recovery of communities impacted by the fire,” says Lyndsey Crossley, philanthropic advisor for the Community Foundation of Northern Nevada in Reno, Nev.

Plumas Bank first made a $50,000 gift to the reserve, dubbed the Dixie Fire Fund. Then, with the Community Foundation’s help, it coordinated a $25,000 match from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco’s Disaster Relief Matching Contribution program, according to Stacy Kendall, Plumas Bank’s vice president of marketing and community engagement.

Andrew Ryback and Mike Beatty Construction Greenville Branch

Ryback, left, cleaning up at the Greenville branch

The fund only marked the start of Plumas Bank’s relief involvement.

“We convened a Dixie Fire Funders Roundtable, of which Plumas Bank has been a cornerstone member of,” says Jovanni Tricerri, vice president of regional recovery and partnerships for the North Valley Community Foundation in Chico, Calif.

According to Tricerri, the Funders Roundtable, organized by the North Valley Community Foundation, comprises representatives from area organizations who determine where, and to whom, donated money will be distributed.

“At the beginning, right after the fire, we were gathering virtually every other week,” Tricerri explains. “What we wanted to do with the Funders Roundtable was collectively leverage each other’s resources and the funds we’d all raised to support survivors of the Dixie Fire by looking at the needs together and helping address those needs.”

Coming out stronger

Plumas Bank plays an integral role in the Funders Roundtable’s decision-making process.

“We take a look at every situation on its own and determine what is the best way to help the community, our clients and team members in the area depending on the need,” says North, who adds that the Dixie Fire Fund had raised more than $230,000 by the end of 2021.

The community bank is in the process of reopening its Greenville, Calif., branch, which had a building that was significantly damaged in the fire. The bank is reinstalling an ATM once internet returns to the area, and converting some of it into shared space with the local chamber of commerce or other community services.

“We’re in the process right now of bringing our building back up to code,” says North. “We wanted the community to have space. That was one of the things we heard: ‘We don’t have space to meet.’ This creates space to come in and meet their banker.

“We’re not up and running, but we’re close, and I’m excited about that,” she continues. “It shows we’re committed, and we’re not going anywhere.”

With the fund growing, it will take time for communities in northeastern California to rebuild, but North says Plumas Bank won’t let them down.

“It’s very near and dear to our hearts. This is something that impacted so many people,” she says. “Plumas Bank was born in the rural community. They built this bank. Through all of this, these communities, our team, all the nonprofits, have come out stronger—they’ve embraced each other. Kindness is constantly showing up in so many ways. Through every tragedy is hope. There’s a lot of spirit in these communities and in our bank.”

Paul Sisolak is deputy editor of Independent Banker.