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Tension in a tinderbox: CUs brace for fire season
SAN DIEGO (5/19/14)--Some credit unions in Southern California are virtually surrounded by wildfires, but as of Friday afternoon they have escaped damage, according to reports.
Several credit union branches were closed late last week due to air conditions or their proximity to evacuation areas.
Sony San Diego Employees FCU, with $7 million in assets, closed for "a couple of hours" because its sponsor, Sony Electronics, issued a voluntary evacuation notice, Sandra Crane, the credit union's president/CEO, told News Now .
"They wanted us to reach our homes, evacuate if necessary, and also the air quality was poor, so there were multiple things going on," Crane said.
Crane lives within a mile of one of several fires in the area.
"It is pretty nerve-wracking," Crane said. "Fortunately, here at the credit union we have an excellent disaster recovery policy in place. We are completely mobile and can access information from anywhere and work from anywhere. It's also nice that we are on-site at Sony Electronics. We have a great group of people taking care of us."
California Coast CU, San Diego, with $1.7 billion in assets, closed two branches Thursday, but the locations were re-opened Friday.
"The situation is very fluid," Marjorie Rice, California Coast CU communications and community relations manager, told News Now . "The weather changes rapidly, and we adjust accordingly. Not only do have to think about our members coming into the branch, but our staff as well."
Other credit unions reporting branch closings to the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues were $206 million-asset Cabrillo CU, San Diego; Point Loma CU, San Diego, with $436 million in assets, and Pacific Marine CU.
"We are monitoring the situation and stand ready to assist credit unions that may become affected by the fires," Tena Lozano, California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues consumer advocacy manager, told News Now . "Thankfully, we're not aware of any damage to credit unions or their employees at this time."
Pacific Marine CU closed one branch in San Marcos, Calif., due to air quality and its proximity to an evacuation area, Brad Smith, vice president of strategic development, told News Now . The branch re-opened Friday.
The $685 million-asset credit union also closed a branch at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton last Wednesday. The branch re-opened Thursday.
Pacific Marine CU's corporate headquarters in Oceanside is located within a few miles of several fires, Smith said. "We're virtually surrounded in this area," he said. "There's been something like nine fires in San Diego County.

"There's smoke everywhere, and it changes direction depending on the wind," he said, adding, "I'm looking out my office at a huge plume of smoke from a fire at Camp Pendleton that has burned more than 8,000 acres."
Smith said the situation has made employees nervous, especially when freeways are closed, making commuting uncertain. "All the schools are closed as well," Smith said. "Some employees went home to take care of their families. There's a lot going on here."
At the same time, he said employees have taken time to distribute supplies, such as Gatorade and personal hygiene products, at local evacuation centers. "It's not that the Red Cross couldn't handle it, but I think it helps people to connect emotionally, to reach out to others during a time like this," Smith said.
The entire state of California has been declared in a state of severe drought or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. While it is waiting for needed water, other parts of the country are preparing for an onslaught of it as the June 1 hurricane season nears.

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