A Billion-Dollar Fortune From Timber and Fire

Red Emerson is the largest timber owner in California with huge holdings in the Sierra. He also has many politicians in his pocket.  And it is traditional for his company Sierra Pacific to hold a seat on the California Board of Forestry which makes the logging rules! …RCoates

Author Chloe Sorvino

From humble beginnings traipsing through California’s vast forests with his dad to salvaging wood from forest fires, Red Emmerson has built a logging empire by being cheaper and more aggressive than his rivals.

One of the largest fires to burn in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Rim Fire tore through 257,000 acres on the edge of Yosemite National Park in 2013. Not long after firefighters doused the flames, a fleet of bulldozers and trucks arrived, sent by billionaire Archie Aldis “Red” Emmerson. Workers began ripping up the trees even as the brush nearby was still smoldering.

  • We’ll be in there before the smoke is out,” Emmerson boasts in a rare, three-hour interview from his Douglas-fir-paneled boardroom in tiny Anderson, California, which is wedged between the Shasta-Trinity and Lassen National Forests, about two hours north of Sacramento. Emmerson recalls the Fountain Fire of 1992 in Shasta County, 50 miles northeast of Anderson, that burned 64,000 acres and 272 homes: “We had trucks coming down the road that had flames on the back.” At 89 years of age he walks slowly but has no problem piloting his silver Dodge pickup truck to work before 8 a.m., six days a week. Adds his son Mark, who is CFO, “We get in, and we are very aggressive after a fire.”

    Nicknamed “Red” as a teen for his hair color, Emmerson is happy to reminisce about the many fires from which his Sierra Pacific Industries has profited. Wearing jeans held up by a belt buckle emblazoned with the insignia he brands on his ranch’s cattle, the feisty tycoon, who runs the business with his two sons, George, 61, and Mark, 58, makes more money from logging after forest fires than any person in America. When the government sells contracts to cut down trees after fires in national forests—a controversial practice known as post-fire salvage logging—Emmerson buys in at a steep discount, often paying one half to one fourth the price for traditional wood. Sierra Pacific then turns the usable lumber (about 90%) into boards and other wood products to sell to homebuilders and lumber retailers like Home Depot, Menards and Lowe’s

Nicknamed “Red” as a teen for his hair color, Emmerson is happy to reminisce about the many fires from which his Sierra Pacific Industries has profited. Wearing jeans held up by a belt buckle emblazoned with the insignia he brands on his ranch’s cattle, the feisty tycoon, who runs the business with his two sons, George, 61, and Mark, 58, makes more money from logging after forest fires than any person in America. When the government sells contracts to cut down trees after fires in national forests—a controversial practice known as post-fire salvage logging—Emmerson buys in at a steep discount, often paying one half to one fourth the price for traditional wood. Sierra Pacific then turns the usable lumber (about 90%) into boards and other wood products to sell to homebuilders and lumber retailers like Home Depot, Menards and Lowe’s.

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