it ‘Fire Safe’
3R property gets extreme makeover
by John Elliott
In demonstrating what it takes to avoid a wildfire tragedy, the Fire
Safe Council of Tulare County couldn’t have made a better choice
than Barbara Wight’s foothills property located between the Mineral
King Road and Sierra King Drive. The remote parcel is steep, overgrown,
and situated above a road where a careless motorist might chuck a burning
cigarette… and poof!
“We chose this property not only because of the extreme fire danger,
but the property owner needed our help in getting the job done”
said Mike Davidson, battalion chief for the California Department of
Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF).
On Tuesday, a crew of more than a dozen CDF firefighters and volunteers,
including Jon Wagy, director of the Fire Safe Council, arrived at the
home of Barbara Wight and went to work weed-eating, sawing, chipping,
raking, and generally clearing the demonstration parcel that hadn’t
been thoroughly cleaned in several seasons.
The workers found plenty of hazardous fuel to remove, including two
woodpiles dangerously close to the dwelling. Lower limbs were removed
from dozens of trees that might help prevent the spread of fire from
the road below.
Three Rivers has experienced several wildfires that started because
of the proximity to a road. In 1988, a motorist threw a cigarette into
dry grass near Hospital Rock in Sequoia National Park.
The ensuing Buckeye Fire burned hundreds of acres as it raced up the
slope toward Giant Forest. Firefighters gained the upper hand on that
blaze just before it consumed any of the renowned Big Trees.
Chief Davidson said the law requires at least 30 feet of defensible
space be cleared around structures, but recent experience gained in
Southern California indicates more than 100 feet is needed, especially
on hillside tracts.
“How much clearance is critical if we [firefighters] decide to
save your house,” Davidson said.
In the 1996 Kaweah Fire, started when a car was parked in tall, dry
grass along Kaweah River Drive, a fire engine was stationed by every
structure that was threatened during the 4,000-acre blaze. Veterans
of that fire say clearance was a significant factor that helped ensure
that no homes were lost.
Davidson said another factor in saving this Sierra King property would
be that the house has a fire-retardant roof. But the large open area
under the structure’s decking, he said, is like an invitation
for fire to come right in.
Last year, in cooperation with The Heritage Project, Jon Wagy conducted
a Fire Safe workshop at Three Rivers School. This time, he was back
in town and taking a more hands-on approach. He said the Stihl Corporation
donated the power tools that were used to complete this work at the
Three Rivers property.
The Three Rivers project, located at 45038 Sierra King Dr. is available
for property owners to see what it takes to be fire safe. The work was
done in recognition of Wildfire Awareness Week, May 9 to 15.
“Our message is that we’re getting ready for fire season
and so should you,” Chief Davidson said. “Hopefully, everyone
will see what we are doing and carry these ideas back to their own property.”
Beware fire and water
Natural events in the Sierra foothills call for increased
This is part one of a two part series on preparing for fire season and
high water in Kaweah Country. This week: FIRE...
The sunny days and warm temperatures are causing two annual phenomena
to occur — the snow to melt and the landscape to dry. And just
as sure as the sun rises and sets, there will be wildland fires and
there will be drownings.
Both of these catastrophic events occur each year and have life-threatening
implications to those who live and visit Kaweah Country. But a bit of
caution and a dash of knowledge is all it takes to prevent tragedy.
Fire season begins
May 9 through 15 has been Wildfire Awareness Week, but residents of
California already are aware of fire with four blazes having charred
the landscape in the south state.
The Kaweah Country climate is once again ripe for wildfire. When spring
temperatures rise, stored winter moisture drives tremendous growth of
trees, shrubs, and grasses, also known by this nasty four-letter word:
FUEL. The recent summer-like temperatures have now dried the residual
moisture and, along with breezy conditions, steep terrain, and an ever-growing
number of homes, it’s a perfect recipe for a destructive, fast-moving
State law requires a 30-foot clearance of all flammable vegetation (excluding
single large trees and ornamental plants) around all structures. Statistics
from the many homes lost to fires nationwide each year, however, warn
us that 30 feet is not nearly enough, even on level ground.
This law was originally geared more toward protecting the forest from
a house fire rather than the other way around.
So, to be personally responsible as a property owner, a 100-foot cleared
area in all directions will substantially reduce the risk of losing
a home on level ground, especially one with a fire-resistant roof.
On 20 to 40-percent slopes (two to four feet of drop per 10 running
feet), this increases to 200 feet downhill and 150 feet uphill and on
the sides. Structures on slopes steeper than 40 percent need at least
400 feet of clearance downhill and 200 feet uphill and on the sides,
which may require the cooperation of neighbors.
Also, trim tree branches well back from the roof and chimney and clean
leaves and other debris from the roof.
Remember, if a wildfire is threatening several homes, firefighters will
perform a type of triage to determine those that can be saved and those
that can’t. They will then put their resources into protecting
the property that has a fighting chance or, in other words, the best
Farm Bureau cultivates
Rivers School gardeners
by John Elliott
When it comes to Tulare County agriculture, Three Rivers doesn’t
come immediately to mind for most folks who live in the second largest
food-producing county in California. But that didn’t stop Kenneth
Milton Savage, retired educator and a member of the Tulare County Farm
Bureau’s education committee, from thinking first about Three
When Savage, 78, a resident of Kaweah, learned about the Farm Bureau’s
Ag in the Classroom program, he knew the agency would be a willing partner
to promote awareness. He also knew that his alma mater — Three
Rivers School — still encouraged its students to learn how to
garden, but could certainly use some assistance.
On Monday, May 10, Savage organized a small gathering at Three Rivers
School to accept a check from the Farm Bureau for $500 to keep the school
garden growing in Three Rivers.
“These students can learn some important lessons by planting a
garden,” Savage told the gathering. “They can learn about
soil temperature, weather, and what it takes to make things grow.”
Savage said timing was everything in getting the grant and that Sue
Sherwood, superintendent of the 180-student school, and her staff at
Three Rivers had done an excellent job on the application. Currently,
both TRUS third and fourth-graders are tilling the soil in the complex
of garden boxes located adjacent to the McDowall Auditorium.
Linda Warner introduced her third graders at the ceremony who had recently
harvested carrots, cabbage, and radishes.
“We’re in the process of changing over to our spring garden,”
Warner said. “The students really enjoy the time they get to go
outside and work in the garden.”
Cheryl Lehn, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau, was
on hand to present the grant check and said that educational outreach
is an important part of what the all-volunteer Farm Bureau is designed
to do. Programs like these, Lehn said, help students learn about where
their food comes from and the importance of agriculture in Tulare County.
In addition to garden grants, regional Farm Bureaus award thousands
of scholarship dollars annually to deserving high school seniors. They
also award science fair winners for ag-related projects at both county
and state competitions.
In California, the largest agricultural-producing state in the nation,
the California Farm Bureau has 90,000 members; the Tulare County Farm
Bureau has 3,500 members.
Honesty pays for Woodlake teens
by Amy Dolcourt-McElroy
Add Elizabeth Martinez and Nancy Cuevas to Woodlake’s list of
hometown heroes. On Saturday, May 1, while enjoying the Cinco de Mayo
festivities at Miller Brown Park, Elizabeth and Nancy found a wad of
money near El Progreso Tortilleria #5.
The young teens could have pocketed the entire sum with no one the wiser.
Instead, they took the cash to Police Chief John Zapalac, who was on
duty at the park.
About an hour after the public announcement of “a large amount
of money,” Ignacio Flores of Woodlake stepped forward with a check
stub to claim the $242.
After cashing his weekly paycheck at El Progreso, the 60-year-old field
worker never noticed when the money fell out of his pocket.
Ignacio honored Elizabeth, 14, and Nancy, 13, for their honesty with
a cash award. Four days later, the Woodlake Police Department gave additional
awards to them in their classrooms at Woodlake Middle School.
Chief Zapalac; Elias Herrera, youth development officer; Dave East,
WMS principal; and Lydia Holguin, assistant principal, participated
in the presentations.
Complimenting the teens on their display of character, Zapalac presented
each with a certificate of appreciation and a cash award of $50, donated
by anonymous citizens.
“I’m really touched, personally, by the honesty of these
girls,” he told the students.
Elizabeth and Nancy join three other Woodlake teens as role models of
integrity and character. In May 2003, Woodlake Middle School students
Ana Aguilar, Cynthia Ramirez, and Valeria Aguirre found a $100 bill
on the sidewalk, which they turned in to the police. The police department
also honored them with certificates of appreciation and cash awards.
This weekend, the Woodlake High School theatre arts department will
present its annual musical. This year’s selection is Nunsense,
an off-Broadway comedy with an all-female (no A-men!) cast who are the
Little Sisters of Hoboken... what’s left of them, that is.
Most of the “Little Hobos” have recently succumbed to botulism
after eating vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia, Child of God. The
survivors, who were divinely spared the poisonous meal, now must bury
their dearly departed, and the production follows the sisters’
hilarious antics as they attempt to stage a benefit variety show to
raise enough money.
The play is open to the public and suitable for all audiences, children
Opening night of the show was Thursday, May 13. Additional performances
will be tonight (Friday, May 14) and tomorrow night (Saturday, May 15),
at 7:30, at the Woodlake High School Performing Arts Building.
A matinee will be held at the Three Rivers Arts Center on Sunday, May
16, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door prior to each performance. Admission
is $6 for adults; $5 for students and senior citizens; proceeds benefit
WHS theatre arts.
For more information, call 564-3307.
Young dancer accepted
Boston Ballet program
by Rachelle Ledbetter
On Sunday, May 23, Meaghan Swinney will present a dance performance
and reception at the Three Rivers Arts Center. The public is invited
to attend the event, scheduled to begin at 3 p.m., as she performs a
Kitri variation from the ballet Don Quixote, a character piece from
Seussical the Musical, and a modern piece to the Enya song “May
it Be” from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.
Additional music will be provided by Kelli McConnehey, a recent graduate
of Arizona State University with a bachelor of music degree in flute
Refreshments will be served following the performance. An admission
donation is requested.
Meaghan has recently been selected to attend the prestigious Boston
Ballet Summer Dance Program, which is a five-week session of intensive
ballet training beginning in July. Only 150 students were selected from
over 2,000 applicants who auditioned.
This program will provide Meaghan an invaluable experience that will
help her forward her goal of dancing professionally with a major ballet
company. She is looking forward to this unique and challenging learning
opportunity that will help her grow technically, artistically, and personally.
Meaghan is a 14-year-old homeschooler from Three Rivers who has been
training seriously in ballet for two years with Susan Pallas of the
Sierra Performing Arts Center in Visalia. She is a member of the Pallas
and Company dancers, who have performed at community events such as
the City of Hope benefit in Porterville and at Children’s Hospital
Central California, Tulare County schools, Three Rivers Woman’s
Club, retirement homes, and the Sequoia and Visalia malls.
In November 2003, Meaghan had the honor of dancing with the Russian
Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker in Visalia. She also participated
in the Long Beach Youth Grand Prix in February, a highly revered competition
in the ballet world.
Just before traveling east this summer, Meaghan will dance the role
of Gertrude in Seussical the Musical on June 26. She will also dance
the lead role of Mary Quite Contrary in the Babes in Toyland ballet
on June 27 at the L.J. Williams Theatre in Visalia.
Both of these productions feature original choreography by Susan Pallas
of Sierra Performing Arts Center.
For additional information about any of these events, call 561-3266.
Rachelle Ledbetter and husband Steve Swinney are Meaghan’s parents.
Men’s softball gears up
With June graduations right around the corner, that means it’s
time to plan for Poison Oak League softball in Three Rivers. The 2004
summer season will continue a 30-year tradition of local men’s
The 16-game regular season schedule is set to begin Thursday, June 10.
Two preseason practice nights will start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 6,
and Tuesday, June 8. All practice and league games are played on the
upper field at Three Rivers School.
The league currently features five teams of approximately 15 players
each. Returning players who choose not to enter the draft will receive
a call from the manager of the team for which they played last season.
New players, including returning players who have not played in the
last two seasons, must enter the draft.
Those players wishing to change teams may also re-enter the draft. In
order to be drafted, prospective draftees must live or be employed in
Three Rivers and sign up via a player-registration sheet that is posted
at the following locations: Three Rivers Post Office, Three Rivers Market,
Village Market, The Kaweah Commonwealth, and the Gateway Restaurant.
Currently, there is a vacancy for the position of activity director
for men’s softball. Interested applicants should call 561-4014
(Mike) or 561-3363 (Heidi) of the Three Rivers School Recreation Committee.
Ed Lafferty, who served as activity director the past three seasons,
will help on an interim basis as his schedule permits. A managers’
organizational meeting will be held Tuesday, June 1, 6:30 p.m., at the
Three Rivers Pizza Factory. For questions concerning the upcoming meeting
or the 2004 schedule, contact the office of the Commonwealth, 561-3627.
1974 ~ 2004
James “Jimmy” Michael Nunnelee died Sunday, April 18, 2004,
in Eugene, Ore. He was 29.
Jimmy was born May 26, 1974, in Visalia to Jim Nunnelee and Cathy Oriole.
He is a former resident of Three Rivers.
Jimmy was preceded in death by his father, Jim, in April 2003.
He is survived by his wife, Crystal, of Eugene, Ore.; son Arieon Jaymz;
his mother, Cathy Oriole of San Diego; stepmother, Sandra Nunnelee of
Three Rivers; grandparents Grady and Mary Nunnelee of Three Rivers;
brother David Nunnelee and wife Amber of Alabama; three sisters, Sarah
Penland of Springfield, Ore.; Rhonda and husband Ray Ortega of Springfield,
Ore.; and Glenna and husband James Rankin of Three Rivers; uncles Jerry
Nunnelee and wife Paula of Three Rivers, Larry Nunnelee and wife Becky
of Springville, and Troy Nunnelee of Three Rivers; two aunts; and many
nieces, nephews, and cousins.