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In the News -
Friday, JUNE 1, 2007
Only in the
June 1 print edition:
$400,000-plus in scholarships
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Peak wildfire arson-caused
On one of the busiest of days of the year for the Horse Creek
area at Lake Kaweah, at least one Memorial Day reveler found the temptation
of lighting some tinder-dry fuel a little too much to resist. That’s
the scenario according to investigators from Cal Fire’s fire prevention
office who said Wednesday the 418-acre holiday blaze that charred the
west-facing slopes of Tharp’s Peak was the work of an arsonist.
In fact, the very same firebug might have staged a rehearsal
or two for the most recent fire by setting several blazes in the vicinity
of Lake Kaweah in the last two years. One of those fires was started at
the same Highway 198 turnout, located a quarter-mile east of the Horse
Battalion Chief Paul Marquez, who was raised in Three Rivers
and is heading up Cal Fire’s investigation of the incident, said
he can’t reveal why the department has determined the recent “Horse
Fire” to be arson-caused, but there was evidence at the scene. A
scene, he said, that has some striking similarities with other fires that
have occurred in the area.
What was different about the other fires is that they occurred
on weekdays when there was only the slightest chance of a witness. On
Memorial Day, there were hundreds of boaters, campers, fishermen, and
passing motorists, some of whom might have seen someone or something suspicious.
One Lake Kaweah park ranger said he was in the vicinity of
Horse Creek Campground just before 12:30 p.m. when he spotted smoke and
flames at the flashpoint. Within a minute or two, fire was quickly spreading
to an arroyo of thick brush just below the turnout.
By 12:35 p.m., two engines from Three Rivers were on the
scene and calling for more equipment. Within the hour, three air tankers
from Porterville were dropping retardant and hundreds of firefighters
were making their way to the scene.
Cal Fire receives a call like that one, the standard procedure is a wildland
dispatch,” Chief Marquez said. “Our strategy is to first attack
the fire from the air in an attempt to stop it from spreading in one direction
Initially, the air-attack aircraft spotter ordered the tankers
to drop retardant a few hundred yards up-canyon in an attempt to keep
the fire from endangering the two nearby homes that are just over the
ridge from where the blaze started. Lake Kaweah visitors, including dozens
of boaters, watched the aerial theatrics as air tankers banked and swooped
within 200 feet of the flames, dumping precisely-aimed load after load.
Some of the pilots’ handiwork may be still seen from Highway 198
in the bright orange swaths that define the northeast and southwest perimeters
of the fire.
we have a nearby water source like Lake Kaweah, helicopters can also assist
the air tankers in slowing the fire with water drops while we mobilize
ground personnel,” Marquez said.
Two U.S. Forest Service helicopters, one from Peppermint (near Camp Nelson)
and the other from the Columbia Air Base in Tuolumne County, scooped a
succession of buckets from the nearby lake basin just below the Slick
Rock Recreation Area. Hundreds of swimmers and picnickers at Slick Rock
continued their Memorial Day festivities uninterrupted as the nearby fire
merely furnished some unexpected excitement.
Within the next couple hours, the hand crews began to arrive
from Mountain Home, Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, and eventually Riverside.
Though there were some anxious moments as the fire burned upslope and
over the ridgetop, it was 50 percent contained by 8 p.m.
were very fortunate to be able to get after the fire aggressively with
so many hand crews,” Chief Marquez said. “The air tankers
slow the fire but the crews that dig the lines surround the blaze and
eventually make certain that we put it out.”
That night (Monday, May 28), glowing embers and flames burning
at the highest elevations were visible for a hundred miles. By 6 a.m.
Tuesday, the fire was 80 percent contained.
was still a lot of mop up and monitoring for hot spots,” Chief Marquez
said. “This morning (Wednesday), we officially demobilized, although
Three Rivers firefighters will continue to patrol the burned out area
for the next several weeks just in case of a flare up.”
Throughout the Horse Fire, more than 520 personnel and dozens
of Cal Fire/Tulare County engine companies assisted in dousing the blaze.
Among the small army of personnel were 14 hand crews and equipment operators
that hauled and manned six dozers.
Chief Marquez said everyone was fortunate this time in what
could have been a tragic ordeal. Cal Fire is asking anyone who might have
been a witness to anything suspicious, to call Chief Marquez at 636-4120.
Town Hall to
Are you wondering how all that new sales tax revenue that
voters approved (Measure R) for the county’s road projects will
be spent? Then plan on attending the next Town Hall meeting scheduled
for Monday, June 11, 7 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
The meeting is being sponsored by the Three Rivers Village
Foundation who had hoped to be in summer hiatus, resuming its monthly
meetings in September. But Tom Sparks, the foundation’s president,
said that Measure R is a hot button and can’t be put on hold.
we hope to get a piece of the pie in the first year’s budget we
have to come up with some projects immediately,” said Sparks. “The
spending priorities have already been determined for some mega-projects
like the widening of Mooney Blvd., Avenue 416 through Dinuba, and Road
What’s at stake for Three Rivers is at least a share
of the first $31 million that’s expected to become available for
road projects in the first three years. The cities are pushing the county
to start this summer on the connector roads and fund the regional projects
like widening Highway 99 and Highway 198 later.
In Three Rivers, the focus tends to be more on urgent road
repairs and less on the future. Ted Smalley, deputy director of TCAG (Tulare
County Association of Governments), said Measure R will accomplish some
maintenance that has been waiting 50 or 60 years, but he agreed that it’s
the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
Relative to the future, Sparks said, there is Measure R money
in the first year set aside for bike lanes, or facilities like a transportation
center. We could get started, he said, by doing the engineering and design
work that would be necessary.
One idea that’s been proposed is a county partnership
with the new Visalia park shuttle. If the County of Tulare could strike
a deal with the City of Visalia, the shuttle could run both ways morning
and evening and eventually year-round. A more realistic schedule would
attract more visitors and benefit Three Rivers commuters to the park and
For more information about the Measure R meeting or how to
become involved with the Village Foundation, call Tom Sparks, 561-0406.