CalFire has a new leader overseeing operations in the Owens Valley.
Division Chief Bart Chambers, who took his post in May, is now overseeing more than 200 inmate firefighters in the Owens Valley and Fenner Conservation camps and dozens of state firefighters, ensuring they are well trained and prepared to respond to local, state and national disasters.
As division chief, Chambers works with two battalion chiefs for the area, which stretches from the Eastern Sierra to San Bernardino.
When it comes to working with inmates, Chambers said the California Department of Corrections has 24/7 responsibility of the prisoners, until a fire call comes in. From there a battalion chief checks out the inmates and transports them to the scene.
As the area’s division chief, Chambers said he is looking to local fire officials for help and support and hopes to nurture a cooperative relationship with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and community volunteer fire departments.
One of his top priorities, Chambers said, is to create a joint training program with other local agencies to help reduce costs of training and ensure that, on the fire lines, each of the Owens Valley’s many fire suppression agencies can coordinate in the field.
“We already have a great relation with our local and federal cooperators,” Chambers said, pointing out that the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department “has been gracious and supportive with its training facility” on East Line Street, making it available to the state agency whenever it has been needed.
Furthering that relationship to include joint training exercises would benefit all involved, Chambers said, especially during tight fiscal times.
Chambers also said he hopes to work on what he called “urban interface development” to protect homes that are close to undeveloped public lands.
In Inyo County, each community is surrounded by fields of natural grass, sage and other shrubs that, when left unmanaged, can create dead and dry fuel for wildfire.
An urban interface program would aim to educate residents about defensible space, which means clearing brush from fields near homes, as well as focus on training programs for firefighters.
Chambers has been working with CalFire for nearly 20 years, starting his career in Santa Cruz.
“A community like Bishop is near and dear to me, I’ve spent a lot of time up here,” Chambers said, adding that, coming from Santa Cruz, a small community is exactly where he wants to be.