SBA approves disaster declaration for economic injuries caused by Rice Ridge fire

The Rice Ridge fire started in July and burned 160,000 acres by mid October. (InciWeb)

The U.S. Small Business Administration this week granted Montana’s disaster declaration for economic injuries related to this summer’s Rice Ridge fire, freeing up low-interest loans for area businesses.

The disaster declaration, requested by Gov. Steve Bullock in early December, makes SBA assistance available to businesses in several western Montana counties, including Missoula, Ravalli, Sanders and Mineral, among others.

“These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact,” said Tanya Garfield, director of the SBA’s western field operations. “Disaster loans can provide vital economic assistance to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.”

Garfield said eligibility is based on the financial impact of the fire, not any property loss. The loans carry an interested rate of 3.3 percent for small businesses and 2.5 percent for private nonprofits.

The loans are restricted to small businesses that lack the financial ability to offset the impacts without suffering further hardship, Garfield said.

The Rice Ridge fire started northeast of Seeley Lake on July 24 and wasn’t contained until mid-October. Over two months, the fire burned 160,000 acres and prompted widespread evacuations in surrounding communities.

It also prompted the closure of Seeley Lake at the height of the tourism season, placing a hardship on local businesses that depend upon summer visitors and recreation.

The Missoula County Small Business Development Center is offering free counseling to help affected businesses move forward in their recovery at 406-243-4770. Businesses can download an SBA application here or call 800-659-2955.