Firefighters need lots of support and fire camps provide that. One important item is ice.
Pine Ice, at Uncle Tom’s Kwik Stop in Pine, is producing the majority of the ice provided to most of the firefighters. In spite of the fire and evacuations, the family run gas station and mini-mart is open to crews during the day, and the ice plant is still going 24/7, said owner Kathy Weeks.
It’s called Uncle Tom’s after her late husband Tom Weeks, an active and wellknown community member who was affectionately the communities’ uncle. A local hub for a quick pizza, gas and a chance to chat with friends, Uncle Tom’s is a favorite for locals and visitors.
Kathy, her two daughters, their husbands and four of the grandchildren make up half of the employees essential to keeping much of northern Arizona cool.
“The night of the evacuation we stayed open to about 1 a.m.,” said daughter, Jessica Barnett.
“We fed anyone in a uniform for free.” Pizza, soda, water were gladly given to the crews in Pine-Strawberry helping evacuees and firefighters first on the scene.
This community minded family did all this while also being evacuated from their homes in Strawberry. Friends and neighbors helped, of course. The family moved their fifth wheels and trailers onto the Uncle Tom’s property so they could adhere to law enforcement requests.
“They asked us not to be driving around town so we are not, we are staying right here,” Barnett said.
Crews are often surprised to see them, as many know the name Pine Ice as the business that’s held a United States Forest Service contract to provide ice to fire camps for almost 20 years.
“I had one firefighter say, ‘I wonder when Pine Ice will get here,’” Barnett said.
“I said this is Pine Ice, we are Pine Ice,” she laughed at his surprise. Here in this little evacuated mountain town, he finds the largest supplier of ice to firefighters.
To keep up with demand, about 25 tons of ice is being produced daily.
Granddaughters make ice at night and other employees make ice all day. Evacuated like the rest of us, the teens then take to the family trailers parked on the business property to get some sleep while the next crew opens the store and operates for the day, said Barnett.
Pine Ice trucks are still delivering, the gas pumps are still providing fuel to all manner of emergency vehicles and hot food and cool drinks can be had.
“We are an essential and vital support, we are going to take care of them,” Barnett said.
“If they tell us to go, (because of imminent fire) we will lock the doors and leave,” added Kathy.