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In the News - Friday, April 10, 2009

—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

Skyline Drive shop, studio ravaged by fire

  Any fire can be disastrous but to lose one’s artwork, archives, and all the tools of two trades, then mere words can’t begin to describe the magnitude of the loss. In the aftermath of last Friday’s (April 3) fire, Lynne and Roy Bunt were shocked.
   According to reports from the scene at 43669 Skyline Drive, Lynne Bunt had been home for about an hour-and-a-half on the evening of April 3. Her husband Roy was at a neighbor’s house playing cards.
   Lynne was cleaning up in the kitchen and went to let the dog out. That’s when she noticed the eerie orange glow coming from the window of the two-story art studio and workshop out back.
   The raging inferno immediately knocked out the power to the barn-like structure and the Bunts’ home. Frantically, Lynne got her neighbors to call 911.
   By the time the first unit of the Tulare County Fire Department had arrived, the barn was fully involved with fire and the roof and exterior walls had collapsed. The building was on the ground burning and putting up some huge flame lengths, estimated at times to be more than 60 feet in the air.
   The huge orange glow was visible all over the Kaweah canyon and to the various fire units that were en route. Neighbors all around the area saw the flames and one said the structure went up “like the Fourth of July.”
   Division Chief Joe Garcia said there were a number of accelerants inside the shop on the ground floor that caused the fire to spread even faster. The building was in the shape of a barn and had been used as a heating/air conditioning shop until a few months ago when Roy Bunt quit that business.
   The owners of the property, Roy and Lynne Bunt, built the 2,400-square-foot building in 2004. It was all wood construction over a concrete floor. The unique barn-like building had a mezzanine over the workshop that utilized the bottom floor.
   The mezzanine was used by Lynne as an arts-and-crafts studio. During the 2004, 2006, and 2008 Artists’ Studio Tours, Lynne’s workshop was a gallery showplace displaying some exquisite gourds, all the best examples of Lynne’s art.
   In addition to her own work, she had other artists’ drawings and pieces, archives of her art associations, 600 gourds, paints, enamels, and untold treasures that, to an art lover, are priceless.
   The shop portion downstairs had ducting, sheet metal-cutting machines, welding equipment, propane tanks, chainsaws, electric tools, and other combustibles including a 2008 Ford pickup that was garaged in the building.
   The shop was located behind the main residence on a slope overlooking the house. Nobody was in the shop and studio building at the time the fire started so there were no injuries.
   The shop was a total loss and damage was estimated at $340,000 to the building and contents. Homeowner’s insurance will cover the shop but the equipment and other building contents were not insured.
   Chief Garcia’s investigation discounted a human or intentional cause for the fire. The fire appears to have been started by a power surge or electrical malfunction at, or adjacent to, a breaker box located at the top of the stairs to the art studio.
   Garcia theorizes that the flash point is what led the fire to burn the studio first, consuming its contents in the upper story and ultimately dumping all that burning debris onto the shop below. The storage of flammable and combustible liquids and materials allowed the fire to consume the structure even more rapidly, but moist ground and green grass confined the fire to the property rather than allowing its spread to nearby homes.
   Brian Rothhammer contributed to this story.

3R Golf Course closed

   Without any advance notice, the Three Rivers Golf Course was closed at the end of the day on March 31. Clubhouse/shop personnel were left without jobs on April 1, but evidently it was no April Fool’s joke.
   A spokesperson for the property owner, Steve Oh, who owns and operates another course in Los Angeles County, said the nine-hole course would be closed indefinitely so repairs could be completed to the grounds and parking lot.
   Only the groundskeepers were retained. One longtime area golfer said it was a shame that Three Rivers was closed right before the busy event season, but the course has not been profitable for quite some time.
   In July 2005, the course was also closed indefinitely for repairs. That closure was expected to be no more than a few months while groundskeepers restored burned-out grassy areas; the course was not reopened until 2007.

Man sentenced in firefighters’ deaths

   During a reconnaissance flight on Sept. 6, 2006, two Cal Fire firefighters were killed when their Air Attack 410 plane went down in the mountains of Sequoia National Forest east of Porterville. The crash took the lives of the pilot, Sandy Willett, 52, and Battalion Fire Chief Rob Stone, 36, who was raised in Three Rivers and whose parents still reside here.
   Subsequently, the fires being investigated by Willett and Stone were determined to be of human origin, resulting in criminal charges against Patrick Courtney, 31, of Tulare. Courtney entered a no-contest plea to four separate counts of unlawfully causing a wildfire. Additionally, he admitted to two special allegations of causing great bodily injury or death to a firefighter and causing great bodily injury to more than one victim.
   On Thursday, April 2, 2009, Courtney was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Courtney has a prior conviction of attempted murder in 1995 and served a prison term for that offense.
   Originally, Courtney faced life in prison if convicted, but prosecutors dropped the murder charges in exchange for the defendant’s no-contest plea.
   During the trial, it was revealed that on September 3, 2006, the defendant was in the Bear Creek drainage near Balch Park Campground in Sequoia National Forest. That evening, firefighters began battling a wildland fire in that area.
   On the morning of September 4, 2006, the defendant walked into the Mountain Home Conservation Camp, about 1.5 miles from where fire suppression efforts were continuing. When questioned about the current wildland fire, Courtney admitted to lighting one fire, then later admitted to lighting a second one.
   Over the course of the next few days, firefighters continued to battle separate fires. In an effort to determine the origin of these fires as well as locate any other possible fires, Stone and Willett were dispatched on a reconnaissance flight, which ended in tragedy.
   Prior to Tulare County Superior Court Judge James Hollman handing down the sentence, statements were read by Rob Stone’s parents, Ginny and Cliff Stone, and his widow, Rindi. Letters written by Rob’s young son and daughter were read by the district attorney.
   Rob, himself, made an appearance in the courtroom through a video that was recorded about a month before the crash when he visited a local elementary school to discuss his career as a firefighter.

LOCCUST program

highlights town meeting

   It was one of the most ambitious agendas for a Three Rivers Town Hall in recent memory and a host of speakers certainly did their part to furnish something for everyone who turned out for last Monday’s (April 6) monthly meeting.
   The evening began when Captain Dahl Cleek was introduced as Tulare County’s new undersheriff. That’s the number two position in the department as Cleek, who lives in Tulare, now works directly under Sheriff Bill Wittman.
   Cleek, a 33-year veteran of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, succeeded Dave Whaley who retired effective April 3.
   Lt. Mike Boudreaux, who heads up the Department’s narcotics and SWAT teams, then presented via PowerPoint an overview of LOCCUST, an acronym for Locating Organized Cannabis Cultivators Using Saturation Techniques. The program, funded by a federal grant, was carried out by a multi-agency task force in 2008 for the purpose of dismantling marijuana/drug-trafficking operations on Tulare County’s public lands.
   At its peak, the operation involved more than 240 personnel who simultaneously raided several large growing complexes in the nearby national parks, national forest, and Bureau of Land Management areas.

  “The program began with a series of traffic stops on roads that went into these areas,” Boudreaux recalled. “From these stops we were able to gather intelligence as to where these growers were operating.”
   Then groups of helicopters short-hauled in equipment and personnel that supported squads of law officers already on the ground. The raids were timed with the peak of the pot harvest, Boudreaux said, so as to really hit the growers where it hurts.
   Sheriff Bill Wittman, who was also in the audience, said that the only way the program could work was if Tulare County was in charge of coordinating all personnel involved. It was estimated that more than 50 percent (482,000 plants) of all the pot being grown in Tulare County was eradicated during the two weeks that the raids were being carried out.

  “I’m not going to debate whether marijuana should be legal or not,” said Sheriff Wittman. “These growers are members of major Mexican cartels and people are being murdered every day. We have to be ready when they come our way.”
   Assemblywoman Connie Conway (R-34th District) used the meeting to make her first local appearance since being elected to the State Legislature. She said the state’s budget fight has taken up much of her time that she had been planned for visiting with constituents.
   Conway said she’s in no hurry to introduce legislation of her own because there’s already more than 2,000 pieces of legislation pending.

  “We’d be much better off with fewer bills,” Conway said. “I’ve had to ask myself: why are we killing the goose that laid the golden egg?”
   Conway was referring to that with all the laws and regulations, California is driving businesses out of state or out of business. She also said she is currently serving on six committees so she can get up to speed and be more effective as soon as possible in Sacramento.
   Conway explained the legislative stalemate as a battle between the urban and rural lifestyles. Among her priorities, she said, are the state’s finances, budget, water, quality of life, and listening to her constituents, especially those who want to introduce legislation.
   Supervisor Allen Ishida spoke on two of his pet projects: water and railroads. He said because the state is cutting back water allocations, there is already 500,000 acres on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that has to be taken out of agricultural production.

  “We’ve got plenty of water resources,” said Ishida, “but we’re in a regulatory drought that’s only going to get worse for eastside farmers too when we lose the San Joaquin River because of attempts to restore its fishery.”
   The fallout from the “regulatory drought” is 40-percent unemployment and degraded air quality from the added dust of land not being cultivated, Ishida said.

  “If we don’t do something about the Endangered Species Act, it’s only going to get worse,” Ishida said.
   Warren Campbell, a Kaweah pastor, concluded the meeting by making an impassioned plea in rebuttal to the Scenic Highway proposal.

  “The people of Three Rivers simply can’t afford any more regulations,” Campbell said.
   The next Town Hall is scheduled for Monday, May 4.

April showers mean more flowers

   Tuesday’s storminess brought another .86 inches of rainfall to Three Rivers, bringing the total to 14.69 inches for the season. That fast-moving system was accompanied by lots of lightning when the strongest energy moved through the Kaweah canyon just after midnight and during the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, April 8.
   The intermittent rains have produced a showy display of wildflowers and should guarantee a diversity of colors and a longer blooming period than 2008. Peak displays are currently making their way up the mountain slopes between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.
   Lodgepole and elevations above 7,000 feet in the nearby mountains received a foot of new snow.

Census Bureau begins 2010 count

   Address canvassing is the preliminary phase of the Decennial Census count. The mass effort was launched Monday, April 6, and is projected to be concluded by June 19.
   During the address canvassing, the Census Bureau will have about 140,000 people working to canvass all known streets and roads throughout the U.S. The workers, using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) for the first time ever, will identify every living quarter where people live or could potentially live and verify more than 145 million addresses.
   This first phase of work will ensure that the Census address list is complete so that everyone can be counted in the 2010 Census.

First 5 in Tulare County turns 10
by Janet Hogan

   Matthew was kicked out of a preschool and suffering from speech problems, but now he’s in a First 5 Tulare County-funded preschool where he is thriving.
   Maria, a mother to three, and her daughter, were both victims of abuse. Today, the daughter is excelling and dreaming of college. Maria says she “doesn’t know how she would have survived” without First 5 Tulare County.
   An infant was born weighing just 2 pounds, 10 ounces. Today, thanks to the First 5 Tulare County-funded Medically Vulnerable Infant Program, she is a bright and playful 26-month-old child.
   These are just a few of the many successes that we’ve been able to celebrate in our first 10 years as First 5 Tulare County. We’ve changed people’s lives by listening to them talk about the needs they confront in their communities and funding programs to help.
   All told, we’ve allocated more than $50.4 million in our first 10 years to help nurture healthier children in Tulare County. Typically, we publish an annual report to inform the public about First 5 Tulare County and our accomplishments, but this year is different.
   This year, we have launched a public education campaign to make sure everyone in Tulare County understands what it is we do at First 5 Tulare County and how we are changing and improving the lives of our children.
   First 5 Tulare County got its start back in 1998, when the voters of California supported Proposition 10, a 50-cent per-pack tax on tobacco. With that money, First 5 Tulare County was formed and immediately began changing lives.
   We believe First 5 Tulare County is successful because we create and evaluate programs to fit the unique needs of our communities and our children. In the past 10 years, tobacco tax funding has been used to provide everything from medical care for seriously ill newborns to health insurance to playgrounds in our communities.
   At its core, First 5 Tulare County is a locally managed organization with a board of seven commissioners, all from Tulare County. Commissioners are charged with overseeing the use of tobacco tax money.
   In order for programs to receive First 5 Tulare County funding, proposals are submitted and reviewed by an independent proposal scorer first, then by the commission. Mini-grants are also available as the budget allows.
   Applications and a list of funded programs are online at first5tc.org or by calling 622-8650.
In our first 10 years, we’ve learned that First 5 Tulare County works.   The proof is in the numbers:

  • 95 percent of First 5 Tulare County children in Healthy Kids have a “medical home,” which means regular, consistent care from a physician.

  • 75 percent of our children in school-readiness programs tested above average for preparedness for kindergarten.

  • 95 percent of children in school readiness programs have received all vaccinations.

  • Over 1,100 children attend preschool programs funded through First 5 Tulare County.
   I look forward to the opportunity this year to meet with many Tulare County residents to celebrate what First 5 Tulare County does for our community. Please join us for our 10th birthday party on Friday, May 15, at 4 p.m., at Riverway Sports Park in Visalia.
   First 5 Tulare County helps children from all walks of life throughout Tulare County, so please look to us for help. Remember, it’s our children’s lives that are at stake.
   Janet Hogan is the executive director of First 5 Tulare County.

First 5 in Three Rivers

   On May 11, 2007, a preschool playground was dedicated in Three Rivers. Located adjacent to the Three Rivers Library, the playground is open to the public and in use nearly every day.
   The area, which includes play structure, benches, and landscaping, was made possible by First 5 Tulare County. The organization provided the initial funds to get the project, which was on Three Rivers’s wish list for many years, off the ground.
   For several years, Three Rivers has been without a preschool for its youngest residents. But every Friday at the playground, which has been named “Our Place,” an educational program is held specifically for preschoolers that utilizes the resources and talents of the community.

Comings and goings

at Sequoia-Kings Canyon

   BILL KAAGE, who was the supervisory fire management officer at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for nine years, will be relocating to Boise, Idaho, later this month. He has been named the Park Service’s national fire management officer. In this position, he will serve as the chief of the Branch of Wildland Fire with the Division of Fire and Aviation Management, based at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
   Since 2005, Bill has served as the deputy regional fire management officer for operations in the NPS Pacific West Region, but maintained his home in Three Rivers. Bill started his career in 1983 as a firefighter with Clearwater National Forest in Florida and began his work with the Park Service in 1994 as fire management officer at Everglades National Park.
   The National Park Service Division of Fire and Aviation Management announced that it has recently filled nine positions, with new staff bringing over 150 years of experience to the division.
   Bill’s wife Susan owned and operated Yoga of the Sequoias in Three Rivers. They raised their two daughters here, but will actually be moving closer to the girls, who both attend Beloit College in Wisconsin, their dad’s alma mater.
   MARY ANNE CARLTON, a longtime interpretive ranger at Lodgepole in Sequoia National Park, has retired. Mary Anne started her career in 1973 as a seasonal ranger. For the last couple of decades, she has been a permanent ranger, but never ventured from Lodgepole. At a retirement party in her honor, it was estimated that over the course of her career, Mary Anne talked to about a half-million park visitors, educating them about the Big Trees and the park’s other magnificent natural resources.
   FRED PICAVET, who has worked at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks for the past five years as a contracting officer, has accepted a promotion that will take him north to the Bay Area later this month. Fred will be stationed at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.
   Fred’s wife, ALEXANDRA PICAVET, who has been a public information officer at Sequoia-Kings Canyon since August 2003, will be joining him. She has accepted a six-month detail in Golden Gate’s public affairs office with the intent of finding a permanent position in the Bay Area.
   In the interim, Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s PIO will be NORMA SOSA, who comes to Sequoia-Kings Canyon from Mojave National Preserve.
   Also due to arrive at Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks this month is the new chief ranger, KEVIN HENDRICKS from Olympic National Park. He replaces J.D. SWED, who retired last fall.

3R Woman’s Club provides

financial gift to local firefighters

   ON MONDAY, APRIL 13, Three Rivers Woman Club president Estelle Christensen and treasurer Karen McIntyre arrived at the Tulare County Fire Station-Station 14 bearing a gift. On behalf of the club, the firefighters were presented with a check for $5,000.
   Since 1916, the Three Rivers Woman’s Club has donated time, effort, and financial assistance to various causes throughout the community.    Next up for the club is the presentation of thousands of dollars in scholarships to graduating high school seniors from Three Rivers.

Bear-ly a break-in

   The strength of black bears that inhabit the Sierra Nevada is the stuff of which legends are made. They can pop open a locked trunk of a car like humans open a can of soda.
   Last Friday, April 3, a local bruin started to break in at We Three Bakery and Restaurant but, for some unknown reason, decided to look elsewhere for that midnight snack.
   According to the owner of the Sierra Drive eatery, Craig Chavez, one of his employees who lives nearby has seen a large black bear prowling the area recently. On this night, nobody reported seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary, but when the morning crew arrived Saturday, they found a mangled rear door.

  “That bear just picked up the security door and folded it up to the deadbolt lock like it used a can opener,” Craig said. “But there was no proof that the bear had entered because nothing was missing or looked liked it had even been touched.”
   Maybe that bruin was just too large to fit in the suddenly exposed crawlspace and decided discretion was the better part of valor.  Whatever the reason, the would-be breaking-and-entering ended up being only the breaking.
   This bear may be the same one that has been prowling Sierra Drive for several years. Larger than the typical wild bear, this one has become habituated to human food.
   While eluding capture several times, the bear clearly shows ability for learning. The challenge of finding more places and ways to locate food has evidently made this critter smarter than your average bear.

Park employs new method

to rehab marijuana sites

   In March, a cleanup operation was launched on a previously eradicated marijuana site in Sequoia National Park. But this time, instead of having to hike to the remote site through thick underbrush and over treacherous terrain, the NPS law-enforcement rangers, crew, and one patrol dog utilized a helicopter and were short-hauled to the location.
   Short-haul is an emergency rescue technique meant to quickly get an individual out of a dangerous situation and place them in a safe location. Short-haul usually involves a rescuer being lowered on a rope from a hovering helicopter to a victim below. After the rescuer rigs a harness to the victim or places them in a Stokes litter basket, the helicopter carries both to safety a short distance away.
   Since 2007, the park has been authorized to use short-haul methods for marijuana eradication operations. This was the first time it was used in this manner.
   While at the site, rangers removed infrastructure and cleaned up the area by removing about a mile of hose, 637 pounds of trash, and many toxic chemicals. It is hoped that the rehabilitated site will be a deterrent to growers when they once again are scouting for areas to occupy and plant.

10 years ago in

The Kaweah Commonwealth

— APRIL 9, 1999 —
  Mary Staberg honored by 3R Lions— At the annual Recognition Night, sponsored by the Three Rivers Lions Club each year on Jazzaffair eve, Mary Staberg of Three Rivers, an EMT with the Three Rivers Volunteer Ambulance for nearly two decades, was honored for her selfless service.
   It’s that time again: Jazzaffair ‘99— The annual Jazzaffair preview article introduced High Sierra’s newest member, Bryan Shaw, trumpet player.
   Bell tolls in memory of John Wollenman— On Palm Sunday, a bell was dedicated on the St. Anthony Retreat grounds in honor of the late John Wollenman of Three Rivers. The bell was donated to St. Clair’s Catholic Church in the 1950s by a Jesuit priest who spent a couple of summers in Three Rivers. It was originally installed on the roof of the church, but removed and never replaced in the early 1990s during roof repairs, so it was relocated to the Retreat.

Weekly tip

— Diets will make you fat —

Click here for Part One

  —Fats are not the enemy. Avoid saturated fats and trans-fats “for the rest of your life.” But eating a moderate amount of unsaturated fats can help you lose weight. Unsaturated fats promote satiety and keep blood sugar from dipping too low, which can trigger overeating. Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats found in vegetable oils (such as olive and canola) and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat found in fish (particularly in salmon), walnuts, and ground flaxseed. They assist in everything from brain function to easing joint and back aches and pains.

  —Learn the quality carbs. When you eat food high in carbohydrates, insulin carries the sugar to muscles for energy. But if your muscles don’t use the energy, it gets stored in fat cells, which leads to weight gain. Keeping carbs in your diet will keep your energy levels high all day, but the kind of carbs you eat makes a huge difference. Slow-burning carbs are high in fiber and slowly digested, keep blood sugar steady, and provide long-lasting energy. Get them in oatmeal and other whole grains, beans, lentils, fruit, and vegetables.

  —Balance cardiovascular workouts and strength training. Sure, one hour of intense cardio burns more calories than one hour of strength training, so it seems you get more bang for your exercise buck (and time) if you stick to the elliptical rather than pumping iron. But au contraire, muscle burns more calories so increasing lean muscle mass is important. Strength training also will make your cardio workouts more efficient as it increases your endurance and leg strength. And you’ll be less injury-prone, because if you increase your muscle strength, you also increase your joint stability and bone mass.

  —Vary your workouts. Anyone trying to lose weight knows that they need to work out on a nearly daily basis, and that’s not always easy. In developing an exercise routine, it’s best to concentrate on the exercise but not so much on the “routine.” While even the same old workout is better than no workout, it is actually best to vary your workouts and their intensity.
   Next week: Having a post-loss plan so you maintain your weight loss for the rest of your life.

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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