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Bishop City Council honors local firefighters

August 20, 2013

At the Aug. 12 City Council meeting, USFS Public Information Officer Deb Schweizer, USFS Dozer Operator Carson Smith, USFS Local Engine 31 Kyle Lehman, CalFire Division Chief Paul Melendrez and U.S. Forest Service District Fire Management Office Division Chief Rick Napoles (l-r) accept certificates of appreciation form Mayor Laura Smith (far right) on behalf of their colleagues. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

This past Monday, the City of Bishop recognized and thanked local firefighters who have been among the nearly 2,000 personnel who have been braving the Aspen Fire since it was ignited by lightning last month.
At the Aug. 12 City Council meeting, Mayor Laura Smith presented the city’s Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Public Service to local U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and CalFire crews. Present on the agencies’ behalf were, for USFS District Fire Management Office Division Chief Rick Napoles, Public Information Officer Deb Schweizer, Local Engine 31 Kyle Lehman and Dozer Operator Carson Smith, and for CalFire, Division Chief Paul Melendrez. Lehman accepted the BLM certificate on behalf of BLM Fire Management Officer Tim Dunfy, Smith later said, as Dunfy was “leading another strike team are out of the area on another fire” Monday night.
According to an Aug. 9 post on U.S. Forest Service website, www.fs.usda.gov, these agencies are among many that have been battling the 22,172-acre inferno, which, so far, comes with a $27.8 million price tag and has resulted in various road, trail and campsite closures; and a few injuries to humans, to say nothing of untold wildlife injuries and fatalities.
Smith said that the council loves to make award presentations and “this evening we are particularly excited to make three presentations at once” to those heroes who have striven to suppress a fire that rivals other huge local fires, “especially now, during the peak tourist season.”
Smith added that these local public servants began their heroic efforts when they first signed up for a profession fraught with personal danger. “That’s when they became heroes.”
On behalf of all of the firefighters, Napoles said, “We appreciate this honor very much and thank you for all those who can’t be here … We’re in for a long summer.”
Smith also acknowledged the efforts of a 34-inmate Owens Valley Conservation Camp crew, out of Round Valley, that has also been actively participating in the fire containment efforts.
According to www.fs.usda.gov, fire suppression efforts, under the command of the South Central Sierra Interagency Incident Management Team, also included help from the National Parks Service, U.S. Department of Defense, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Fresno County Sheriff, Madera County Sheriff, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.
Smith explained that the Aspen Fire spread quickly due to various factors. One such factor, said USFS, is the steep terrain and continuously accumulating smoke, which still hampers firefighting crews’ accessibility and visibility on the ground and in the air. Another factor is the abundance of accumulated fuel – the area has been fire-free since a 40,000-acre inferno in 1939, Smith added. “There is a lot of growth to burn;” the agencies are removing forest fuels in advance of the fire to contain it.
For more information about the status of the Aspen Fire, call (559) 893-7018; visit the USFS website, www.valleyair.org or www.airquality.org; or follow the Sierra National Forest Twitter Account: @sierra_nf.

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