Affiliates Battle Wildfire Ash and Smoke Amidst Pandemic in California

October 29, 2020 by
Photo credit: Wine Country CrossFit

Over 8,200 fires have burned more than 4 million acres in California. And affiliates are being affected.

  • “Surviving the pandemic has been tough, and a fire season that started in August is an additional onslaught,” said Beth Rypins, owner of Wine Country CrossFit located in downtown Napa.

One big thing: As fires rage, air quality decreases. And in a state where gyms are facing massive restrictions due to COVID-19 — think outdoor only or 10% capacity limits indoors — this is a problem.

Affiliates have had to be very flexible with their programming, adjusting services day to day. But some have had to shut their doors for long periods of time.

Nikeé Huntington, the owner and head coach of CrossFit Santa Rosa, said they are located in a county where they have to keep all operations currently outdoors. 

  • “With recent wildfires, I had to close the gym for many days due to coaches being evacuated from their homes, poor air quality and thick ash that had settled in the parking lot,” said Huntington, who also had to evacuate.

Why it matters: With the combination of COVID-19 and the surrounding wildfires, certain California CrossFit gyms could be at risk of losing it all.

But at times like this, members need their CrossFit homes more than ever.

CrossFit Napa Valley/Crush Fitness has seen its members be evacuated and some even on the frontlines as firefighters. Whether it was through an invite to dinner, a place to stay or offering flexibility in open gym hours for firefighters to come blow off steam, the gym became a place for those affected.

  • “Our Crush Fitness community has come together to offer those impacted by the fires help in many different forms,” said Ruben Perez, owner of CrossFit Napa Valley/Crush Fitness.
Photo credit: CF Napa Valley/Crush Fitness

In terms of helping members via gym operations, CrossFit Napa Valley/Crush Fitness purchased large air filters to run 24/7 inside the gym. And when the air quality was just too poor, Perez said they closed the gym and offered home versions of the workouts.

In fact, boxes all around the areas affected by the 2020 wildfire season have stepped up to help members in various ways.

What they’re saying:

  • “Whether it be a place to stay, help evacuating, etc. we were ready to help. We also did a workout to raise [around $350] for local victims of the fires,” said Andy Gensheimer, owner of CrossFit Vacaville in Vacaville, California.
  • “We offered up our box as a place for people to come to hang out and be with friends, take a shower or to use as an evacuation point,” said Monica Hagen, owner of CrossFit Solano in Fairfield, California.
  • “We created an unlikely partnership with The Wine Train that allowed us to build a 50-foot deck on the side tracks outside our building. That allowed us to hold CrossFit classes outside,” said Rypins.

However, this isn’t the first year fires have devastated affiliate communities. Ryan Parker, owner of CrossFit NorthGate in Santa Rosa, California, said during the 2017 Tubbs fire, 27 of his members lost their homes.

His community is used to regular power shut downs, evacuations and loss of homes because of wildfires. But with a pandemic on top of it, this year has been incomprehensible in impact. People have been stuck inside for months; Parker said the gym is their only  place to decompress.

Even with having to modify programming when the air quality was at its worst, Parker said he’s only seen an increase in need for the gym.

  • “CrossFit NorthGate has become more important to our members as we’ve struggled through these turbulent times, even serving as a temporary shelter for those displaced,” said Parker.

The bottom line: In California, it’s about survival. Whether from wildfires or months of being stuck inside, people are in need of a life raft. Once again, Affiliates are stepping up to be whatever shaped life raft members need. 

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