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Fire Kitchen Cooks Savor Their Work

August 18, 1989

SALMON, Idaho (AP) _ They don’t see the firefighters they cook for, but the women of the Salmon National Forest fire kitchen fuss over every meal as if their favorite children were coming to dinner.

During fire season, two crews of local women work round the clock. Housed in the basement of the Bureau of Land Management-Forest Service warehouse, the 20-by-30-foot kitchen can prepare meals for 700, and the cooks have pushed the limit to more than 1,000 when firefighters on lines in other parts of the state are still waiting for their caterers to arrive.

They cook in five- and ten-gallon pots and stir their concoctions with ax handles. The meals are airlifted to the fire camps.

Retired cook Evelyn Yakovac was on hand when the fire kitchen opened more than 40 years ago.

It was before the Forest Service used helicopters, so meals were packed in five-gallon tins and parachuted into the camps. Mrs. Yakovac recalls one fire in which the T-bone steaks they sent got hung up in a tree and spoiled before the crews could get them down.

The advent of helicopters and pickups helped improve things, she said. It even meant they could send pies to the crews. After the Corn Creek fire in 1961, Mrs. Yakovac went home and built enough pie boxes to feed 180 people. They’ve been sending out pies ever since.

Forest Service regulations now require a caterer for a fire camp of more than 250, but the fire kitchen still finds itself busy, serving smaller camps and picking up the caterers’ slack.

″We do everything homemade here, everything from scratch,″ said Virginia Perry, Mrs. Yakovac’s daughter and a 34-year veteran who serves as head cook for the five-person daytime crew.

Their menus include such entrees as steak, chops, chicken, and casseroles, plus a variety of salads and baked goods.

A meal of stew and fruit salad for 700 requires 100 gallons of stew, 50 gallons of fruit salad, 90 gallons of coffee, 70 gallons of punch, and 18 gallons of milk.

The women turn out meals for less than $10 a day for each firefighter, Forest Service spokeswoman Eileen Havens said. In contrast, the Forest Service this year paid caterers more than $28 a day for each firefighter’s meals.

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