Orosi students show appreciation for firefighters

Middle school children in Orosi write letters, create banner to celebrate firefighters as June Fresno Lightning Fire Complex nears containment

(Rigo Moran)
Derek Fleming
Published July 2, 2024  • 
10:30 am

SANGER – Multiple lightning strikes in remote, rocky and dry areas in Eastern Fresno County sparked three massive wildfires last week, which are now approaching points of containment according to Cal-Fire.

Multiple fire and service organizations created a base camp directly across the street from Orosi’s Citrus Middle School, which gave students an up-close look at the efforts put forth to contain the fires. In response, around 120 students wrote 85 letters of thanks and created a massive banner thanking everyone involved in the firefighting effort for the work they put forth. 

“It was so cool,” Cal Fire Captain Brent Pascua from the San Diego unit said. “We are up here fighting the fires and missing our own kids, and when you come into base camp and see that, it just gives you that little uplifting motivation to see that everyone around here stays safe as we put the fire.” 

Christian Forman, the Extended Learning Program para-educator with Community Youth Ministries for Kings County Unified School District, said he came upon the idea after seeing how much interest the students in his summer school program had in the ongoing efforts. 

“Our students have seen fire trucks coming into and out of town and they were excited about the idea of making cards to show their thanks,” Forman said. “Our public information officer had a big smile on his face as we walked over to deliver the cards and he mentioned that it meant a lot to him and to all firefighters. Our students came together to make cards and show our thanks to our firefighters for fighting the Fresno June Lightning Complex fire.”

The fires began on June 27 when more than 1,000 lightning strikes were reported from a fast-moving tropical storm system. The three major fires are the Flash Fire, the Bolt Fire and the Hog Fire. As of 7 a.m. on July 1, the Flash Fire is 100% contained and the Hog Fire 99% contained. The Bolt Fire is just 68% contained, but Cal-Fire reported minimal fire activity overnight as crews worked to extinguish the blaze. 

In all, the three fires have burned nearly 11,000 acres but just one structure was lost and no injuries have been reported. The structure was a transmitting tower for Valley PBS Channel 18, which is now unable to broadcast over the air transmissions. PBS has not announced when broadcasting will resume. According to reports, the station is investigating leasing a tower to begin rebroadcasting. 

The Bolt Fire became the largest of the three primary blazes, having burned 6,875 acres and that number is likely to grow even as fire crews gain containment. The Hog Fire was the smallest at just 293 acres, while the Flash Fire encompassed around 3,600 acres. Several other small fires were sparked by lightning but were quickly brought under control before becoming a major wildfire. 

With the Hog Fire and Flash Fire largely contained, Cal-Fire has lifted evacuation orders and warnings in the region. They caution people returning to areas that have burned to be vigilant as there is always a possibility of flare-ups. In a post on the Incident Report for the Lightning Fire Complex, the agency warns that warmer and drier conditions are anticipated in the coming days which could lead to new fires. 

Forman said he hopes the experience of showing gratitude for the firefighters and other service personnel involved motivates them to become more involved in the community, whether it is as firefighters or other paths that improve the communities.

“This experience can show how students pave their way, not just for future careers, but the pathways they want to take,” Forman said. “The experience will help them grow as individuals. This can help them develop into a completely different person and understand how life can inspire the younger generations.”

Crews operated 71 fire engines, 33 water tenders, 24 hand crews, six helicopters and 11 bulldozers to contain the fires. A total of 1,155 crew were involved in the effort. Crews worked 24-hour on and 24-hour off shifts fighting the fire. 

Crews from the Fresno County Sheriff, CAL OES, California Conservation Corps, PG&E, Southern California Edison, Fresno County Public Works, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Highway Patrol, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Fresno County Emergency Operations Center, Verizon, the City of Orange Cove, the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians, the Traditional Choinumni Tribe, Cold Springs Rancheria and the Wuksachi Michahi Tribe all contributed to efforts to control the fires and restore services in the region.  

PG&E continues to show several small power outages in the region of the fires but most customers have seen services restored. Initially when the lightning strikes occurred, some 16,000 residents of Fresno County were without power, as previously reported by The Sun-Gazette. 

Another large fire is burning near Balch Camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Called the Basin Fire, it has grown to 11,000 acres since igniting on June 26. It is not yet known what started that blaze. That fire is currently 0% contained and evacuation orders are in place for residents of the area.

Derek Fleming