Regional supplies move like wildfire through Prescott cache

Courier/Jo. L. Keener

At the Prescott National Forest's supply cache, manager Ed Plapp inspects a shelf holding portable water pumps. The operation has shipped nearly $8 million worth of equipment and supplies already this fire season.

It has everything from clothing to water hoses to generators to complete campsite set-ups. Ladders reach up to stacks of MREs (meals ready to eat) and 500-person first aid kits.

Already this year, the cache received more than 700 orders for 6,800 items worth $7.8 million, exceeding the total from all of last year.

Those numbers not only show how busy this fire season is already; they also show how meticulous the cache is at maintaining its inventory records. It has to be, because lives may depend on it.

Plapp started working as assistant manager at the cache in 1991 when it opened, and he's never seen it this busy.

These aren't the kind of requests most inventory people receive for supplies, as this fax list that came in to supply tech-

nician Carla

Sartwell from Arizona's Rodeo Fire Friday attests: 50 two-person tents, 200 five-gallon pails of foam, 144 rolls of ribbon for marking areas such as tree hazards and escape routes, 250 sleeping pads, 60 boxes of light sticks, 1,400 packages of AA batteries that each contain 24 batteries, 100 helmets, 25 hat flaps to keep sunlight off necks, two boxes of toilet paper containing 50 rolls each, 25 tree wedges, and 30 belt weather kits that contain portable psychrometers for measuring humidity, wind speed and temperature.

The normal staff of seven has ballooned to 25, with temporary help from local artists and teachers and students, and everyone is working 12-hour shifts at least six days a week during two shifts. And that doesn't even include all the contract help.

Right now, the cache is supplying the Rodeo, Chediski and Big fires in Arizona, as well as the Sanford fire in southern Utah. If another wildfire strikes this region, the cache likely will move to 24-hour staffing, Plapp said.

Perhaps the hardest part of the job for the cache workers is when most of this stuff comes back. After they inventory it and decide whether unworkable items are fixable, they have to clean it all up. And when it's been on a

gritty wildfire line, it's not a pretty sight.

"It's filthy dirty, and it stinks," said Plapp, who used to fight fires himself and first came to the Prescott National Forest heli-crew in 1969.

Local laundries clean the firefighters' clothing for the cache. Local drivers haul the goods to fires. And sometimes local stores beef up the cache supply.

Because it depends so much on contract help, the cache pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Prescott economy.

Contact Joanna Dodder at jdodder@prescottaz.com