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In the News - Friday, July 27, 2012




Visitors escape Silver City cabin fire


  Fire is always dangerous and every precaution must be taken to ensure the safety of those nearby. When there is carelessness, there is often tragedy.

That tragedy was narrowly averted last Sunday morning (July 22) when a couple from Seal Beach was awakened by the smell of a fire burning in their small rental cabin at Silver City Mountain Resort, located in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. Fortunately, Michael Seward, the general manager at Silver City, was also awakened shortly after 1 a.m.; he heard popping sounds.

  “It sounded like gunshots,” Michael recalled.

  Michael said he couldn’t believe the scene he encountered when he got to the burning cabin. The cabin guests, Steve Jones and his wife, Wendy, were sitting nearby, apparently in a state of shock.

  Jones said later that he and his wife managed to escape the blaze by crawling out of the windows of the rental cabin while it was engulfed in flames. Steve suffered some smoke inhalation, and evidently the couple watched in horror as the fire consumed all of their belongings.

  Michael said he quickly organized his work crew into a fire detail to contain the raging inferno.

  “The cabin was totally gone by the time we started to pour water on the blaze,” Michael said. “At least we were able to keep the fire from spreading to the rest of the property.”

  One witness reported that there was scorching on the large trees nearby that reached upward of 10 feet from ground level. If the fire had spread to the tinder-dry forest it might have become a disaster of epic proportions.

  “Thank God no one was seriously hurt,” Michael said.

  When Tulare County Fire Department personnel arrived on the scene an hour later the fire was out. Steve Jones and his wife were administered oxygen but refused transport to a hospital for further treatment.

  Steve Jones, a frequent visitor and Mineral King backpacker, had been a featured speaker at the Mineral King Preservation Society’s annual Picnic in the Park on that Saturday, July 21.

  No cause of the fire or damage estimate was listed in the preliminary report released by the Tulare County Fire Department. Michael said the fire spread from a campfire adjacent to the cabin that the visitors failed to douse before they retired to bed. 

  This is the second fire that has occurred at the resort in the past year. On the night of October 26, a fire ignited in the chimney of another rental cabin at the Silver City Mountain Resort, which consumed the rustic structure and all its contents.

  Two men, who were asleep in the cabin when the fire started, said they were awakened by the smell of smoke. They were able to escape the burning structure uninjured. The men used fire extinguishers and a nearby garden hose to try to douse the flames. The resort had closed for the season on October 16, but employees were staying in the cabins while working on a remodeling project.


Body of missing hiker found


  Thomas Heng departed on a day hike Sunday, July 22, from the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead on the Sierra’s east side in an attempt to summit Mount Langley (elevation 14,032 feet).  The body of the 31-year-old man from San Rafael was found by searchers on Wednesday, July 25.

  Heng was reportedly last seen at approximately 13,000 feet elevation at 1 p.m. on July 22. The Inyo County Sheriff’s dispatcher received a report on Monday, July 23, at 5:40 p.m., that the solo hiker was missing.

  On Tuesday, more than 20 searchers and two helicopters combed the area in attempt to locate Heng. The exact location of the body and the cause of death were not contained in the preliminary report.

  Mount Langley is the seventh highest of 10 “Fourteeners” in the Sierra Nevada and is considered by  the mountaineering community as among the most accessible to summit. The main route consists of a maintained trail via New Army Pass along all but the final 300 feet to the peak.

  That last 300 feet of the summit block is a Class 2 scramble but the views alone are worth the effort. Class 2 means rugged terrain, usually in steep talus, where hikers will need to watch their footing and hands must be used occasionally for climbing or to maintain balance.   Most hikers can negotiate Class 2 terrain with little risk.

  The trail to Mount Langley starts at the Horseshoe Meadow parking lot at 10,040 feet in Inyo National Forest.

  If taking a detour to the Cottonwood Lakes basin before hiking to or from Mount Langley, the trail is unmaintained beyond the lakes as it climbs over Old Army Pass, which is where a hiker would cross the boundary into Sequoia National Park. The distance to the peak is 10.5 to 13 miles from the trailhead, depending on the route traveled.




Seeing clearly: The good air quality on Tuesday, July 24, revealed a High Sierra scene without a speck of snow. Also unusual for July is the lack of any fire burning in or around Sequoia National Park, although a half-acre prescribed fire is planned for today in the Round Meadow area. The water level of Lake Kaweah is dropping rapidly due in part to the lack of snowmelt flowing down from the Sierra mountains.


South Fork arrests reveal clandestine activity


  It’s no secret that the isolated outlying public lands around Three Rivers contain some fertile ground for establishing marijuana grow sites. In the past decade, thousands of plants at various locales along all the forks of Kaweah River drainage have been removed by task forces mostly under the auspices of CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting).

   Evolution of the local marijuana trade: According to CAMP statistics for the year 2008, Tulare County was among California’s top 10 counties for plants that were removed as a result of CAMP raids. In each of the past four growing seasons, less of the mega-operations have been discovered on the public lands while Tulare County law enforcement officials have been kept busy by more brazen operations on the valley floor.  In some cases, distributors and others with connections to the illicit drug trade have established grow houses where pot is being grown both indoors and out.

  The monitoring of these properties by law officers, which tend to have less plants in cultivation than the huge grow sites on public lands, has been made more complicated by growers who band together to grow medical marijuana. Muddling law enforcement policy even further is the fact that the growing of a certain number of plants is legal under California law for card-carrying medical marijuana users.

  Each county in California has been left to its own devices to regulate these growers and the dispensaries that distribute the “legal” product. The County of Tulare is attempting to force medical marijuana growers indoors in response to several violent heists where growers have been victimized by thieves looking to make an easy score. 

  In some instances, safe houses purchased with proceeds from the drug trade have cropped up in rural communities to act as intermediaries for the larger networks. These properties grow some plants as growers, suppliers, traffickers, businessmen, and various levels of drug pushers come and go under the guise of the host family or property owner who, in all appearances, are just growing a few plants for medicinal purposes.

   Local raids: On Tuesday, July 24, one such outlying property near South Fork Drive was raided by the STEP (Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel) unit of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. According to unconfirmed reports from neighbors of the property, at least two arrests were made and two children were taken into the custody of the county’s Child Protective Services.

  “There was no mystery as to what was going on there,” said one neighbor who requested that his name not be used in connection with the story. “First they built a huge fence, brought in the pit bulls to patrol the perimeter of the compound, installed the obvious security cameras with motion detection, and there was the constant traffic coming and going at all hours of the night and day.”

  The property, which was vacated by the previous owner after a foreclosure, was purchased last year in auction by the new owners. A local real estate agent, who attended that auction, said the new owners were not typical Three Rivers buyers and paid for the property with a large sum of cash.

  On Thursday, July 12, Tulare County STEP officers had raided a grow site on Bennett Creek, a tributary of the Kaweah’s South Fork and within five miles of the house that was raided this past Tuesday. In that raid, several suspects disappeared into thick brush onto private ranchlands.

  Detectives eradicated a total 2,156 marijuana plants from this location.    

Sgt. Chris Douglass, spokesperson for the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, said that on Friday, July 27, she will issue a press release on the incident. For the time being, members of one South Fork neighborhood can breathe a collective sigh of relief.                                  


Woodlake Car Show celebrates custom car crafters


By Holly Gallo


  With cars as hot as the weather, the 14th annual Woodlake Custom Car and Bike Show’s July 21 exhibition of country’s finest vehicle enthusiasts delivered its promise of a good, old-fashioned rock and roll weekend.

  Artists from all over the Central Valley and from as far away as Florida entered 158 metal masterpieces, custom chariots, and award-winning autos at the Woodlake Valley Chamber of Commerce-sponsored car show. A total of 99 trophies were awarded in 33 different categories, for first, second, and third place.

  Among the winners were Juanita Matta and her son, Sam, of Visalia. Sam received two trophies for first place in his class as well as Chamber’s Choice for his 1971 Chevy El Camino, while Juanita also received first place for her 1956 Chevy Bel Air.

  Cary Miller of Exeter received first place in ‘50s Low-Riders as well as Chamber’s Choice for his 1951 Chevy Fleetliner.

  Cresencio Campos of Woodlake received second place in Foreign Cars for his Alfa Romeo Spider.

  DJ Tony Avila provided the music, and Woodlake City Park was jumping with dancing kids, parents, and participants.

  Come Back Buddy, the three-piece featured band, took the city back to the rockin’ ‘50s with hits from Ricky Nelson, Johnny Cash, Elvis and, of course, Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

  New to the car show this year was Haro’s Tri-tip stand, manned by Irene Haro, her husband and cook Alfonso, family Nathan, Ariel, Erykah, and mother Juanita Martinez from Selma.

  “We love old cars,” Juanita said. “Our family comes every year. Irene loves to cook, and after coming here for the first time last year she decided to offer everyone some good food here at the park.”

  “It went really well,” said Joaquin Federico, one of the volunteers at the car show. “There were a lot of really nice cars.”

  Federico noted that the sheer variety of entries had created a few cases of confusion regarding the award categories, but they were few in numbers and quickly settled.

  “Last night’s cruise night and street dance was even bigger than last year,” Federico continued. “It’s almost getting too big!”

  Shirley Moran, the event cochairman, noticed that businesses were still keeping busy well after the conclusion of the street dance Friday night.

  “We’ve never done it for profit,” she said, referring to the local Chamber of Commerce. “We do it for the businesses. The cruise night especially brings in a lot of money for the local businesses. The only set back is that it’s in July and it’s so hot!”

  General Foods in Woodlake has been a major contributor to the fight against the heat every year by donating water and ice to the event coordinators, entertainers, and volunteers.

  “We couldn’t do it without their help,” Moran said. “And we really couldn’t do it without Rudy.”

  Rudy Garcia, chairman of the car show since its beginning, has been serving Woodlake since his family moved to the area in 1960.


Local angler beats the odds


  When just about every bass boat and shore angler is getting skunked, Scott Snetzinger of Three Rivers continues to bring in the beauties. Case in point is this largemouth bass he caught this week, weighing in at four pounds, four ounces.

  Scott landed this lunker on Tuesday, July 24, in the “River Arm” section of Lake Kaweah just above Slick Rock. It’s not the size of the fish that impresses, which is just average as Scott’s trophies go, but the fact that Scott can catch fish whenever — any time of year and that includes now when a good bass bite is as likely as a snowstorm in Three Rivers.

  “When the lake is dropping two feet a day the fish just can’t find a comfortable place to hang out and they are constantly on the move,” Scott explained. “When they aren’t comfortable the odds of getting a bite are practically nil.”

  Nil, that is, unless you are Scott, who just seems to know how to think like a bass in order to determine where the fish may be on any given day.


Porterville soldier laid to rest; community mourns


By Holly Gallo


  After losing yet another son in the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Porterville mourned the death of 21-year-old Private First Class Alejandro “AJ” Pardo earlier this week after Pardo and six others in his team were killed in action on July 8 by a roadside bomb.

  Before the family and community could even begin to heal from this loss, they were faced with a disturbing threat that the notorious religious extremist group Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., was going to protest his funeral.

  WBC has grown in infamy due to their loud, public campaigns against Jewish, Islamic, and Catholic communities and faiths, as well as a variety of other affiliations, religious or otherwise.

  In an online news release published Thursday, July 19, WBC stated that they were going to picket Pardo’s July 24 funeral service at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Porterville as part of their campaign against military funerals, which “have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy.”

  When Porterville resident Cady Carvalho found the document online, she decided to take immediate action.

  A few months ago, Carvalho had heard about another WBC military funeral protest and how a group of the fallen soldier’s supporters had created a wall of people wearing maroon T-shirts “to block the families from seeing and hearing the monstrosities that those people say.”

  Carvalho immediately created an event on Facebook detailing the plan to protect Pardo’s family during AJ’s memorial service with a wall of supporters dressed in white T-shirts standing between the protestors and the grieving family.

  “The whole idea behind the white T-shirts was that we were going to be the light… to prevail over the darkness of those protestors,” Carvalho said.

  By 10 a.m., organizers of the white wall had counted 150 white-T-shirted supporters lining the fence surrounding Holy Cross church.

  An hour later, that number had nearly doubled.

  “I didn’t expect this many people to show up,” Carvalho said. “It’s amazing that these people would take time out of their day, take time off of work, just to stand out here in the 100-degree weather to support their fallen soldier.”

  When public politics overlap with the intimacies of the private sphere, controversial protests like those organized by Westboro bring to the foreground tough questions about First Amendment rights to free speech in a public space.

  The general feeling of those who had gathered around Holy Cross was that the attendance of organized dissenters would be inappropriate and distasteful.

  “We’re here to support the family,” white wall participant Carrie Hall of Tulare said. “No matter what your beliefs are, this is not the time or place to protest.”

  Although there were rumors floating around that either WBC Pastor Fred Phelps Jr. or another representative of the group had been spotted nearby, in the end there was no action taken by Westboro Baptist protestors.

  While coming together against their “monstrosity” was certainly motivational in uniting Porterville and its neighboring communities in Pardo’s honor, the absence of the antagonists was not diminutive.

  In fact, the quietude allowed to the Pardo family might have been much more powerful than even the loudest rebuttal against what threatened them.

  Such as when the Patriot Guard escorted AJ back home on Monday night.

  “It was just the most amazing thing they ever saw,” Carvalho reported. “It was dead silent, and all you could hear was the flapping of the flags.”




In mourning: Flags at government agencies throughout the nation, including the Three Rivers Post Office (right, with Rebecca Sanchez) and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, were flown at half-staff through sunset on Wednesday, July 25, in honor of the victims of the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colo. The text of President Obama’s proclamation read: “As a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated on July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colorado, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, July 25, 2012. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.”




A Center Stage Strings camp retrospective


By Anna Vosbigian


  In L.A., a city with nearly four million people, I play in concert halls that are half full. In Three Rivers, home to 2,000 people, the hall is packed.

  As a classical musician, playing pieces written by composers who have been dead for centuries receives varied reception. Many people from Three Rivers have told me that, although they don’t listen to classical music, they still enjoy coming to the Center Stage Strings concerts.

  I have honestly never seen such an enthusiastic audience. Center Stage Strings is not merely a camp in Three Rivers; it is among Three Rivers. I have spent five weeks here in the past three years, and each year the same awesome people return to the concerts.

  One element that creates this strong connection is the host homes. Honestly, when I first heard that the students would be living in host homes, I was skeptical and not too excited.   Once I met my host families (I’ve had two sets), I realized that Three Rivers is home to some of the coolest people anywhere.

  On a couple of nights that my roommate, Samantha, and I were home early this year, we watched movies with our host parents. Other nights, we would stay up and chat with them.

  On three mornings, we had breakfast together. The night before our first breakfast, they asked us what we liked to eat. Sam voted for bacon and eggs; I said that I’d loved the coffee cake from the year before.

  We didn’t expect to come downstairs the next morning and find everything we’d mentioned waiting for us — plus potatoes, fruit, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. We were introduced to locally grown eggs and pigs made into bacon — definitely the best bacon I’ve ever eaten.

  At the Three Rivers Presbyterian Church (our main location), breakfast and lunch were cooked by volunteers from town. At the last camp I attended, the typical dinner consisted of leftovers from lunch doused in tomato sauce and served in a lake of oil.

  Here, Sierra Subs (and a few nights of Antoinette’s Coffee and Goodies) cooked steak, lasagna, chicken pot pie, and other awesome meals. People from town also brought desserts each night — root beer cupcakes, hot fudge sundaes, and my favorite, the apple crisp.

  Last year, I had at least five pieces, but this year, since I was playing at the concert later that night, I controlled myself and only ate four slices.

  Bill Haxton still thought this was excessive, and a couple days later his wife, Anne, said to me, “Anna, I’ve been taking pictures of all the desserts, and I froze an extra slice of the apple crisp… I can take a picture of you eating it and call it ‘Anna’s 5th piece!’”

  I happily accepted and was served the rest of the crisp, which was the size of about five regular pieces.

  At dinner one day, the assistant viola teacher, Michael, announced that we were having an improv night later. Although everyone at the camp memorizes pages of concertos without a problem, the thought of playing something that hasn’t been written down before seemed overwhelming. However, after an hour, when we were supposed to return to our host homes, no one wanted to leave.

  Someone suggested that we play for the faculty so we all made our way to the hall. Half the group stayed at the front of the stage while the other half .

  Those on the right slowly “grew” up, then as they shrank, my group began to rise from behind the wall. We filmed it the next day, and then during the faculty concert, we repeated this during intermission.

  This was different from a normal performance. No one knew what they were going to play, but no one was nervous. My group crouched behind the wall and watched as the other group emerged. Once they stood up, we began to rise. I have laughed during some performances, but never as much as that night. Even the audience laughed as we bounced back and forth.

  The camp has evolved each year, so although this was my third year, each year is not simply an extension of the previous camp. The first year, all the students were violinists. Last year, the camp doubled in size and there were a few violists and cellists.

  This year, the most noticeable change for the audience was the addition of giant fans in the hall. For the students, there were also seven new Practicubes. Previously, everyone would literally claim a corner of the church basement as their practice space. This year, we discovered that a family of mice lives in the area I used to practice in. Now, there are six soundproof rooms in the basement and one in Harrison Hall. Perhaps next year, the camp will be extended another week, which would be a welcome addition.

  At Center Stage Strings, I am able to focus while I practice much more than when I am at home. Being around so many fantastic musicians is incredibly motivating.

  Whenever I took a break to hang out with friends, there was always a nine-year-old in another practice room whose presence reminded me that I really should go back and practice.

  Kevin, one of the youngest campers, would even tell me, “It’s 3:32 now and you said that you were going to take a break until 3:30.”

  The small size creates a great, noncompetitive community where the college students would talk to kids who were half their ages. Each year has been better than the last, and I am so happy that I can say that I have attended since the first year.

  I can’t wait for next summer and, hopefully, many years after.

  Anna Vosbigian is a high school senior who resides with her family in Mission Viejo.




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