PHCP wholesalers in the southern California area expressed their sympathy and willingness to help the victims of the horrific fires that began around Oct. 21 and affected five counties. The counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, Ventura, and Riverside were declared disaster areas. As of Nov. 5, 22 deaths had been attributed to the fires; more than 800,000 acres had burned; and more than 3,400 homes had been destroyed. However, by Nov. 5, the fires were mostly contained and no longer threatened communities.

SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES contacted wholesalers operating in the southern California area to ask what impact the fires had on their business. Here is what they said:

John Rondina, assistant manager, Standard Plumbing & Supply, San Diego:

We were closed for the first day because of the smoke. We were a little bit busier than normal on Tuesday (Oct. 28). I'm not sure if that was because people were backed up after a closed day or if that was due to fires. As of Nov. 3, it was back to business as usual. We work with a lot of repair plumbers, not new construction, so we would be involved in work on homes that weren't completely damaged.

Paula Mendell, owner/president, Reliable Pipe Supply, San Diego:

Things virtually came to a standstill on Monday, Oct. 27. All the schools were closed for the entire week due to poor air quality. It was surreal and sad. The mayor was on the news telling employers to let their employees have time off on Monday to keep the roads clear. Monday was quiet except for emergency workers. Tuesday people went to work. It has been touch and go. The last Sunday of October was pretty grim. A lot of people have lost everything. Eventually we will have to rebuild. We are an industrial supply house. The larger plumbing wholesalers will more likely benefit from home building. Contractors are getting geared up to rebuild, but it will be a while before insurance companies pay out. Pipe, valve and fitting wholesalers will eventually benefit from this tragedy, but it will take some time. I am having a fundraiser for the victims of the fire on Dec. 11. I have a tradeshow/party every year and turn it into a charitable event. It is not always easy getting vendors to dig in their pockets and write out a check, but I think this year will be different.

Paul Geiger, owner/president Geiger Supply, Big Bear Lake, Calif.:

We were closed from Tuesday, Oct. 28 to Monday, Nov. 3. The valley in Big Bear wasn't touched, but surrounding areas were (Arrowhead and Running Spring valleys). Arrowhead may have lost 300 homes. Some of our customers are just drifting back into town and getting back to their jobs.

There's a lot of new construction. We work mostly in residential construction. Nicer homes in a few of the outlying areas have sprinkler systems. We'll probably see more of that.

Betty Cuellar, chief operating officer, Mission Valley Pipe & Supply, San Diego:

Business is good now. During the time of the fire it was slow. We were one of the few supply houses that was actually open on Monday, Oct. 27. We had a skeleton crew most of the last week in October, but everyone was here on Friday, Oct. 31. We did not have any loss of life or property for our staff. We were very fortunate. Not everyone was as lucky as we were. We will probably see a positive impact on business as the fire clean-up continues. We feel lucky to be alive.

Frank Clark, general manager, Standard Plumbing, San Diego:

Our business location was not impacted. A couple of our customers lost their homes. Several of them were evacuated, but fortunately they were able to go back into their areas without any damage to their homes. Three of our customers had damage to their homes. We were shut down for a full day on Monday (Oct. 27). We had opened, but it was extremely slow, so we decided to close down. Everyone seemed to be preoccupied with the danger and the devastation. They weren't in a working mood. It was such a terrible thing. People were killed and we heard that 2,700 homes were lost throughout San Diego county. I think as everything shakes out and people decide they're going to rebuild their homes, we will see an increase in business. We're selling various items to the contractors doing the work. It's just like building a new home - you need piping fixtures, fittings and the like. The devastation doesn't make us feel good about any windfall of new or increased business.

Mike Abeling, president, Consumers Pipe & Supply, Los Angeles:

Business-wise the fires really haven't impacted us too much with the exception of some major highways being closed. The major effects were on our employees. One of our outside salesmen, Phil Rice, who was living in the Running Springs area, was evacuated for two weeks and didn't know if his house was still standing or not. The power was out and the highways were closed. Five other employees were evacuated or on standby so they were off work for several days. They had their cars loaded up, ready to go, but they're all okay. Ash and soot covered everything, but it didn't affect our business. We're not in the plumbing business, we're in the industrial.

Shelly Olsher, chief executive officer, El Cajon Plumbing & Heating Supply, El Cajon, Calif.:

Some of our customers have lost their homes and will have to rebuild. Some people had been in the process of building homes that were destroyed in the fire. They will have to figure out what they need to re-order. We were closed for one and a half days. We are a couple of miles from where the roads were closed. Fortunately, we did not get any embers to threaten our establishment. There is a lot of clean up that has to be done resulting from the smoke and ash. Sometimes our truck drivers had trouble delivering because there were restricted areas where they were asked to prove residency. Security was tight. Usually they were allowed to make their deliveries. We are trying to provide paperwork such as receipts for anyone who has lost anything. Business for suppliers probably will grow due to the destruction in the area, but we would rather see an increase from some other means. <<