The Three Rivers fire that had firefighters from as far away as Tulare scrambling on Wednesday, Aug. 13, was caused by a turkey vulture that landed on an electrical transmission line that was electrocuted, fell to the ground, and sparked a wildfire. A blown transformer caused an interruption in power throughout Three Rivers for several minutes.
The call came in shortly after 10 a.m. to the Three Rivers fire stations but firefighters from Sequoia National Park at the Ash Mountain helibase already had a visual on the smoke and were in the attack mode immediately.
The National Park Service helicopter made three bucket drops on the fire and ground staff assisted the Tulare hand crew with digging fire line. Park staff can respond to Three Rivers fires under a mutual aid agreement with local agencies, said Linda Mutch, acting fire education specialist at Sequoia-Kings Canyon.
In this fire, dubbed the Alta Fire, the quick response was critical. Santiago Cardenas, the Cal Fire engineer in charge of the incident, said this was what they call a “back fire” as some strong westerly winds were fanning the flames downhill.
The flames made several runs in the hour until the fire was knocked down and contained. In addition to the NPS unit, Cal Fire aircraft and personnel responded, as well as Tulare County engines and personnel from Lemon Cove, Tulare, and Three Rivers.
The final units on scene were released from the incident at 4 p.m. The blaze charred a total of 1.5 acres.
3R patrol engine unavailable
Conspicuously missing from the fire scene was the refitted Tulare County Fire Department patrol engine from Three Rivers’s Station 14. Apparently, the patrol engine was on loan to Cal Fire and National Forest Service units fighting fires in Lassen National Forest.
A local firefighter reported that Joe Garcia, Tulare County Fire chief, had not kept his promise that the local patrol engine, upgraded with $30,000 raised during Three Rivers fundraisers, would remain here to fight local fires.
Apparently, Tulare County derives income by loaning out the engine, which is specifically outfitted to fight wildland fires. The understanding by those who donated money to refurbish the engine was that the chief and the county Board of Supervisors upheld that the patrol engine would remain in Three Rivers during the height of fire season.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, Chief Garcia said the patrol engine would be back in Three Rivers in a day or two.