Wildfires force closings for San Diego's tech firms

Wildfires force closings for San Diego's tech firms

The heat is on, but employees won't face the flames alone

High-tech San Diego-area groups such as the AeA San Diego Council, as well as local employers, are keeping a cautious eye on winds and warnings as Southern California's wildfires edge closer to industry centers in the region.

Kevin Carroll, executive director of the AeA chapter, lives in San Diego County in what is now termed a "voluntary evacuation area." As of Tuesday afternoon, he wasn't leaving, and he said his neighbors were staying put as well. But his family's bags were packed and near the door. He and his wife will sleep in shifts tonight to keep an eye out -- the same drill as last night.

But Carroll on Tuesday drove through San Diego's high technology areas with a reporter from a local newspaper to see the situation for himself. Many technology companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co., have closed local facilities but none have been damaged by fire, although houses within miles of these firms have been damaged. "The mayor has asked people to stay off the road and those areas have been evacuated," said Carroll.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate the area, and HP closed its San Diego facility Monday as a result of the mandatory evacuation, said Edward Woodward, an HP spokesman. Woodward stated that there are currently fires to the north and south of the facility. HP doesn't disclose the size of its local operations, but the San Diego facility, which includes printing and imaging groups operations, is believed to have several thousand employees.

Woodward said the company doesn't know yet whether any of its employees have lost their homes as a result of the wildfires, but added that HP has established dedicated hotlines to provide support to any affected staffers. He said the company is working on plans to offer alternative housing support, should it be needed.

Carroll, who said he tried to check in with as many of the area's tech companies as he could, said cellular service has been holding up, and he has had no problem connecting to the Internet.

As he drove through affected areas today, it appeared as if the fire had bypassed the county's tech firms, Carroll said. But, he noted, "I don't want to say they are out of danger yet."

Carroll said the image of San Diego in the news gives the impression that the entire area is affected by fires, but the message he has been sharing with AeA officials in Washington, where the industry group (formerly called the American Electronics Association) is based, is that many areas are untouched.

"From the outside, it looks like San Diego is in chaos and in flames, but it's not," said Carroll. "There are large parts of the city where you wouldn't know that anything is going on."

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