Electrical Distributors Support Recovery

Nov. 7, 2003
Rexel temporarily shut down three of its branches and an operations manager lost her home when the worst wildfires in southern California’s history swept through the region last week.

Rexel temporarily shut down three of its branches and an operations manager lost her home when the worst wildfires in southern California’s history swept through the region last week.

The company shut down its branches in northern San Diego, Escondido and El Cajun for at least half a day because of problems with ash and air pollution. At least one employee lost her home in the wildfires.

Lyn Smith, operations manager for Rexel’s branch in El Cajun, was back at work the morning of Oct. 27 helping customers, just a day after a fire destroyed her home in El Cajun.

“She’s a trouper,” said David Wallace, general manager of Rexel’s southwestern U.S. operations.

Over the past week-and-a-half, Smith said she was more concerned with keeping products needed for the recovery efforts in stock at the El Cajun facility, and she has been busy air freighting deliveries from manufacturers. For instance, Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., Little Neck, N.Y., air freighted receptacles for a Home Depot request for generator-related equipment and Siemens Energy and Automation Inc., Alpharetta, Ga., shipped distribution equipment to help restore power. “We have a lot of outlying areas trying to get temporary power,” she said. “We can’t seem to get material in here fast enough to help them. We’ve been working to get stuff flown in.”

OneSource Distributors Inc., San Diego, operated with a skeleton crew on Oct. 27 but was back to full speed at its distribution center the next day, said Bob Zamarippa, company president.

“The biggest challenge the company faced was helping several employees who had to be evacuated from their homes,” he said. “We had a number of employees evacuated due to potential fire issues. That was a big challenge. We set up a central command spot here at our headquarters in Oceanside and then offered to put them up at a local hotel by the coast here.”

Zamarippa said seven families had to evacuate their homes as a result of the wildfires. Several families that had to evacuate had homes near OneSource’s locations in Los Angeles County. None of the families lost their homes.

Zamarippa said he appreciated phone calls from electrical distributors, including some competitors, who offered to help. OneSource expects to see some increase in sales of utility-related products because of the fires. The company is not in the residential supply business and does not expect to see business from the rebuilding that will take place.

John Henry, director of marketing for i2 Trade Service, San Diego, was not affected by the wildfires, but he said several employees from his company who live in the Scripps Ranch area had to evacuate their homes. “No one I know in our company had their home burned, but they were very close to it. They were evacuated and are just now getting back into their neighborhoods,” he said.

Henry said Oct. 28 was the worst day as far as air quality. “The visibility was really bad and the smoke was shutting out the sun. You could feel it in your eyes and throat,” he said. Conditions improved the next day when the winds shifted.

Kathy Ellison, president of B&K Electric Wholesale, City of Industry, Calif., said several employees who work at B&K’s Rancho Cucamonga branch had to evacuate their homes and some employees were not able to get to work because of a fire that crossed Interstate 15. Ellison has a vacation home near the Big Bear Lake resort area. Wildfires came within eight miles of the area on Oct. 29.

Overall, the electrical industry in Southern California appears to have been quite fortunate, and relatively few of the companies in the area that Electrical Marketing contacted had been adversely affected by the wildfires.

Jan Padilla of Walters Wholesale Electric Co., Signal Hill Calif., said none of the company’s 15 branches in the Orange County and Los Angeles counties were affected.

Five Southern California counties have been declared disaster areas. The wildfires are reported to have consumed more than 740,000 acres and destroyed 3,500 homes in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.