the News - Friday, April 10, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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’
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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,”
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,
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,
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
Lodgepole and elevations above 7,000
feet in the nearby mountains received a foot of new
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
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
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
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
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
• 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
• 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
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
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
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
Park employs new method
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
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
— 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.
— Diets will make you fat —
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