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Sequoia and Kings Canyon
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In the News - Friday, OCTOBER 26, 2007

Southern California


Firestorm from the desert to the sea…
Canyon (Malibu), Magic (Magic Mountain), Ranch (Castaic), Buckweed (Saugus), Cajon (Interstate 15 at I-215), Slide (Lake Arrowhead), Grass Valley (Lake Arrowhead), Santiago (eastern Orange County), Rosa (Temecula), Rice (Fallbrook), Poomacha (Pauma Valley at State Highway 76), Wilcox (Camp Pendleton), Coronado Hills (San Marcos), Witch (Poway, Rancho Bernardo), McCoy (Julian), Harris (Potrero)...

   Santa Ana winds are nicknamed “Devil Winds” for good reason. In fact, this past weekend, these winds were the reason Southern California turned into hell on earth, from Santa Barbara County to the Mexico border, from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Ocean.
   When all is said and done, at least 24 separate fires will have scorched about a half-million acres, devouring nearly 2,000 homes and causing close to a million people to evacuate their neighborhoods. Eight people have died.
   Currently, investigations are ongoing to determine if one or more of the deadly and destructive fires were intentionally set.
   At their peak, the hot, dry winds, which initiate in the Great Basin and funnel in to the southland from the east through canyons and passes, reached sustained speeds of up to 75 miles per hour, which is classified as hurricane force. This combined with excessive vegetation, low humidity, lack of rainfall, firefighting aircraft being grounded, and individual homes and subdivisions in and around the wildland interface became the equation for a perfect storm.
   After four days of firefighting efforts that were solely defensive, subsiding winds allowed for the effort to become offensive. By Wednesday, Oct. 24, firefighting planes were given the go-ahead to start combating the blazes from the air and an army of firefighters were able to begin using their expertise and equipment to begin beating the fires into submission and achieve containment.
   As the fire restrictions in the Sierra foothills are eased each October, fire season gears up in other areas of the state. In October 2003, the Cedar Fire devastated much of the same areas, aided by Santa Ana winds.
   In October 1991, fires in the Oakland hills east of San Francisco killed 25 people and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes. Northern California is not immune to these devil winds as these were again identified as the culprit of this out-of-control inferno.
   Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took quick action Sunday by proclaiming a State of Emergency in seven counties — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura — allowing the state Office of Emergency Services to deploy emergency personnel, equipment, and facilities and provide local government assistance. He toured stricken areas Tuesday.
   President Bush followed the governor’s lead by issuing an Emergency Declaration, which provides federal assistance for immediate needs, and announcing a Major Disaster Declaration, ensuring federal funds are available for victims who have losses not covered by insurance. The president toured Southern California on Thursday.
   Local residents who wish to assist in the recovery efforts may go to to offer their donations.
   Editors’ note: We were in Southern California on Saturday, Oct. 20, when the Santa Ana winds began. We spent that night in Santa Clarita.
   When we awoke Sunday morning, the winds were strengthening and we heard about the Malibu fire. With a sense of foreboding, we decided to cancel our plans for the day and return home.
   That’s when we saw the region’s next fire, west of Interstate 5 near Castaic (see photo, page 1).
   When we were first married, we lived and worked in the small, rural community of Modjeska Canyon in Orange County, where a dozen homes burned Tuesday.

                                                                                                                        —JOHN AND SARAH ELLIOTT

Tulare County personnel,
residents answer fire alarm

   In a disaster of the monstrous proportion of the fires that ravished a seven-county area in Southern California this week, it is difficult to comprehend the full scale of the suffering, the fear, and the dislocation caused by evacuating nearly a million persons. The implications of the damage will take years to fully comprehend.
   But when tragedy strikes California, there is a ripple effect that is felt nearly everywhere, especially in the 58 counties of the state that now contains more than 10 percent of the U.S. population. It starts with the response of Cal Fire as resources and personnel are immediately deployed to the front lines.
   In Tulare County, by Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the peak of the firefighting activity, there were already 152 Cal Fire personnel and all the local firefighting equipment that could be driven or transported to Southern California, the majority being deployed to the Castaic/Santa Clarita area. Included among the number of the Tulare County firefighters were 72 inmates based at Mountain Home, east of Porterville.
   According to Paul Marquez, Cal Fire battalion chief of law enforcement with the Tulare Unit, the emergency in Southern California created an unprecedented situation in Tulare County. All staff at the Cal Fire stations like the one in Three Rivers were dispatched to the southern portion of the state.

  “We have worked out an emergency services agreement with Tulare County Fire Department to provide coverage for Three Rivers, Lemon Cove, Doyle Colony, Springville, and the Terra Bella areas,” Chief Marquez said. “Cal Fire will be paying Tulare County for the extra manpower and equipment for as long as we are deployed in Southern California.”
   As of Wednesday, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks had dispatched at least 25 of its personnel to Southern California, and more are expected to go to help with mop-up and restoration of parks and public lands. Among those already working at several of the more than a dozen major fires are the Arrowhead Hotshots, a crew of 20 based in Kings Canyon; Dave Allen, fire management specialist; Deb Schweizer, fire education specialist; Brandon Dethlefs, fire module leader; Mike White, helicopter crewmember; and Ann Birkholz, natural resource manager.
   Bill Tidwell, Three Rivers Cemetery board member, called to report that Gary Whitney, board member, was unavailable for this week’s meeting as he was also in the southland assisting the firefighting effort. Whitney is an experienced volunteer firefighter and heavy equipment operator and is most likely driving a dozer and building fire line and access roads.
   Lynn Buckler, a chiropractor in Three Rivers, reported that her brother, John Little of Ramona, has been working in his hard-hit community to provide food for firefighters and evacuees throughout the past week.
   On Wednesday, he provided 500 hamburger lunches and has also been trucking in water to supply the airport operations and firefighters who ran out of water due to failure of the city’s pumps.
   The Ramona-Julian area, which also burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire, is currently the hub of the most devastated part of San Diego County.
   Little, who is a chef and operates a catering business in the area, has been providing emergency food services entirely at his own expense.

  “We’re collecting local donations to help out John and the Ramona area,” Dr. Buckler said. “All donations will be sent to help my brother pay expenses to feed the needy in those hardest hit areas.”
   Dr. Buckler said that those who would like to help financially may send donations to P.O. Box 296 in Three Rivers or call 561-2210.

Staying safe in fire country

   Here is a brief refresher course on how to prepare your home and family to best withstand and survive a wildland fire:

  —Regularly clean rain gutters and clear debris from the roof, under decks, and around the home.

  —Create a 100-foot defensible space (it’s the law since January 2005). Within 30 feet of the home, all flammable vegetation should be removed. For the next 70 feet, loosely space the trees and shrubs, keeping all of it free of underbrush with occasional firebreaks (driveways, walkways, etc.). Remove all tree branches to six feet from the ground.

  —Keep woodpiles 30 feet or farther from all structures and remove vegetation within 10 feet of woodpiles.

  —Create an evacuation plan for your family so if a wildfire threatens your home you can leave quickly. The plan should include preparing a “bug-out bag” and making precious items easily accessible.

  —If a fire is approaching your home and you have ample time, shut all windows, take down drapes, and water down the roof and landscape with a hose.

  —If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

New gallery houses

artifacts, archives, artwork

   The informal tours by an ever growing number of the curious may be a sign of things to come for Discoveries West Gallery and Archives. John McWilliams, curator of Three Rivers’s newest attraction, said that with each passing day more people are dropping in for a preview of his unique showplace of American history.
   But McWilliams said that those who come after the opening is official (Sunday, Oct. 28) will also enjoy a place where local artists like longtime resident Richard Skeen can exhibit their work in a changing museum-like tableau.
   Richard, who was raised and educated here and is an avid backcountry photographer, will be among the first to exhibit his favorite images. McWilliams said the participation of local artists will lend more appeal to his grand gallery design and be incentive for even more visitors.
   Currently, there are no plans to charge an admission fee to see the gallery or to research the archival collection. It is also planned that there will be a regular schedule of lectures, a publication series, and conference groups that may use the facility for meetings and seminars.

  “This gallery is something I’ve wanted to do since I began collecting Americana as a teenager growing up in Tulare County,” McWilliams said. “What better place to share these historical treasures than with the local community in Three Rivers and the visitors who come from near and far?”
   The Discoveries West Gallery, located at 40915 Sierra Drive in the Village Shopping Center (in the space previously occupied by Art Molina, M.D., and Sierra High Chiropractic), will celebrate its grand opening on Sunday, Oct. 28, with a gala celebration from 1 to 6 p.m. Dignitaries from around California and the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce will assist Meaghan Swinney of Three Rivers, reigning Miss Tulare County, with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting as a highlight of the historic affair.

As if one tax bill wasn’t enough…

   Of the 139,000 tax bills that have been mailed to eagerly-awaiting Tulare County residents, 11,100 were duplicates.
   So if receiving two of these gifts from the county, don’t fret, faint, or freak out. Simply compare the assessment numbers, the fee parcel numbers, and the amounts due.
   If it’s a perfect match, then do to one of them what you’ve always wanted to do but never did: rip it up and throw it in the trash.

Planning Commission

hears Yokohl Valley update

   It’s been more than 18 months since the Yokohl Valley Ranch Company informed the County of Tulare of its intention to develop a substantial part of its holdings east of Exeter. At Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Tulare County Planning Commission, Dave Bryant, special projects planner, provided commissioners with an October status report on the project.
   The report defined the project as a 36,000-acre mixed phase development with the only the initial phase of approximately 30 percent, or 9,500 acres, being considered for development at this time. At build-out, the project might include 10,000 residential units, and 550,000 square feet of commercial area.
   A memorandum of understanding (MOU) and a Reimbursement Agreement between the County, the ranch company, and its environmental consultant were approved by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 7, 2006.
   Since that time, the company and its consultants have been conducting preliminary research on the land and its feasibility for development. County staff has been meeting regularly with company representatives to determine a project schedule and the implications of the planned community zoning ordinance, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on September 25, 2007.
   Staff has also recently received a Water and Wastewater Technical Report and reviewed and discussed the legal requirements of Native American involvement relative to the SB 18 process.
   To date, Bryant reported, the following technical reports have been received: Yokohl Ranch Dam Technical Report, Geotechnical Evaluation of Dam for the EIR, and a Yokohl Ranch Master Infrastructure Plan. Additional technical studies for geology, traffic, and hydrology are anticipated to be delivered to county planners by the end of 2007.

  “At the current time, we are considering some key issues that should be addressed in the upcoming EIR,” Bryant told the commission. “Any responsible agency or individual should notify staff of a particular concern for the EIR.”
   Bryant said that if anyone can identify potential impacts or has suggestions for mitigation, the “heads up” to the consultant will help provide a more sound draft EIR. He said he expects his department to announce a “notice of a preparation” on the project EIR by year’s end.

Power lines drop in

on Three Rivers business

   Two downed power lines were discovered Tuesday morning, Oct. 23, at Reimer’s Candies and Gifts in Three Rivers. It was determined that two lines snapped after a wind gust, which caused a brief power outage and some anxious moments for residents who understand the potential danger of power lines to ignite a wildland fire. An SCE crew promptly repaired the downed lines.


Bill Hamilton, Tulare County native,

psychologist, award-winning college professor

1943 ~ 2007
   William Hall Hamilton of Three Rivers died Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007, after a valiant 12-year struggle with cancer. He was 64.
   On Sunday, Oct. 28, beginning at 11 a.m., a memorial service and celebration of Bill’s life will be held at the White Horse Inn in Three Rivers.
   Bill was born in Visalia on March 2, 1943, to William Thomas and Virginia Rae Hamilton. He attended Mt. Whitney High School, College of the Sequoias, and completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Jose State University. In 1978, he earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology.
   In 1974, Bill married the former Terri Snell of Tulare. The couple moved to Three Rivers in 1990, drawn to live full time in the community they had visited almost weekly for many years.
   Dr. Bill was a teacher for more than 30 years, from undergraduate to post-doctoral instruction. In addition, he was a psychologist for the past three decades.
   During his 25 years as a professor at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Bill taught psychology and behavioral health classes. His students obviously appreciated his wit, wisdom, and energetic style because he was the inaugural recipient of the student-initiated Golden Apple Teacher of the Year award.
   Beginning in 1976, Bill and his wife, Terri, advocated for COS to offer a human sexuality course. A year later, in Spring 1977, the course was first offered and, as one of Bill’s signature courses, it evolved into one of the college’s most popular classes.
   Also while at COS, Dr. Bill was instrumental in founding and implementing the campus’s Peer Counseling program as well as co-developing the College Health Center.
   In addition to his tenure at COS, Dr. Bill taught counseling courses for the University of San Francisco during which time he developed a counseling program for women at Visalia Community Hospital, which served as a fieldwork site for his graduate students.
   He also taught and supervised master’s degree counseling students at California State University, Fresno, and taught sex therapy and psychopharmacology to doctoral students at his alma mater, the California School of Professional Psychology. From 1996 to 2006, he was a senior supervising clinician and visiting professor in the Marital and Family Therapy Program at the Family Institute at Northwestern University.
   In 1996, Dr. Bill appeared as a relationship expert on the NBC newsmagazine program REALife. In 2003, he provided his insights as a weekly columnist for the Visalia Times-Delta, co-authoring the “Relationships” column with his wife, Dr. Terri Hamilton, also a psychologist.
   Concurrently with his long teaching career, Dr. Bill was a licensed psychologist and maintained a private practice in Visalia where he specialized in marriage and family therapy, sex therapy, clinical hypnosis, and mind-body issues relating to illness. For several years, Bill saw many of his clients at the office of Art Molina, M.D., in Three Rivers.
   Bill was an avid jogger and loved to snow ski, hike, kayak, and contemplating the universe. He cared deeply about human dignity and environmental conditions affecting the future of the planet.
   He loved to sip coffee on the deck of his house overlooking the river and talk with friends, read, or simply think about how lucky he was to live in a place that felt like he was “on vacation all the time.” Aside from the view from his deck, he thought there was nothing more perfect than hiking beyond the Lodgepole area of Sequoia National Park and gazing upon the splendor of the Watchtower vista.
   Bill is survived by his wife and life partner of 33 years, Terri Hamilton of Three Rivers.
   In her book Skin Flutes & Velvet Gloves (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), Terri wrote of her husband:
   In an uncertain world where absolutes are scarce, I know this for sure: I am loved and treasured as I love and treasure. I’m one of the lucky ones who chanced upon my soul’s companion and heart’s desire in this lifetime, and for this I am grateful every day.
   Dr. Bill is also survived by his mother, Virginia Hamilton of Visalia; his daughter, Julie Turner, and son-in-law Mike Turner of San Jose; his two grandchildren, Matthew, 6, and Gracie, 3; and many loving family members and friends.
   In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Bill’s name to The Alliance for Climate Protection (, the Sierra Club (phone 415-977-5653), or the American Red Cross (800-HELP-NOW).

THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
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