Friday, February 15, 2008

Pincha-Tulley to return to valley

Visit by Castle Rock Fire incident commander will include public appearance

Express Staff Writer

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley speaks to Sun Valley Co. owner Earl Holding during last summer?s Castle Rock Fire, which burned 48,520 acres of Smoky Mountain backcountry west of Ketchum. Pincha-Tulley returns to the valley next week for a public appearance at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum.

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, darling of the Wood River Valley who oversaw the successful fire-fighting effort last summer that kept the 48,520-acre Castle Rock Fire from overrunning homes, lives and businesses, is returning to the valley for a visit next week.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, Pincha-Tulley will participate in a public conversation at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum.

The free public event will take place at 6 p.m. in the library's church.

Pincha-Tulley's visit to Ketchum coincides with a photographic exhibition at the library that honors her and the more than 1,700 firefighters who worked to keep advancing flames from overwhelming the community. The images are from a variety of photographers who witnessed the 20-day wildfire, which began burning on Aug. 19 and wasn't declared contained until Sept. 4.

The exhibition will use the same format as a similar photographic exhibition held at the library last fall. Warm Springs resident Alfredo Rego, whose home was at the fire's edge, is curator of the exhibit.

During the wild time that was the Castle Rock Fire, Pincha-Tulley's presence became a calming factor in the local community. During successive public meetings, she gave local homeowners, public officials and others frank assessments about where the fire was headed, and what actions firefighters would take to control the fast-moving blaze.

Time after time, Pincha-Tulley achieved the near impossible. Standing in front of crowds that typically numbered well into the hundreds, she managed to restore calm to local homeowners inching toward panic due to the proximity of the flames and the scarcity of information.

Rumors bandied back and forth through the community were quickly dispelled by her fact-based reports.

Two weeks into the infamous lightning-caused wildfire, and as it continued to threaten numerous homes up and down the valley on both sides of Ketchum, Pincha-Tulley explained that her ability to maintain a good-natured attitude in the face of intense pressure is a result of her upbringing.

"I grew up with eight Italian males. You had to learn to either fight or smile," Pincha-Tulley said during an interview, appearing completely relaxed as she sat outside of the River Run Lodge, which had been transformed into her command center.

"Besides, I'm from the Deep South where things are done graciously," the Alabama native said during a rare moment of free time in her 16-hour workday.

Pincha-Tulley, who now lives in Grass Valley, Calif., found her calling in 1978 when she began working as a seasonal firefighter on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest crew while earning a degree in forest management from the University of Washington. Gaining permanent appointment the following year, she worked her way through the firefighting ranks, which took her through five different national forests in three states. In 1986 Pincha-Tulley began serving on incident command teams, working on fires all over the United States, including remote parts of Alaska, and became an incident commander three years ago.

"It was love at first sight and I haven't left fire since," Pincha-Tulley said. "Like the other firefighters here, I feel a strong need for public service. Of course, we're also all adrenaline junkies."

Pincha-Tulley will also be a guest speaker at the Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotary Club on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The public is welcome to the noon lunch event, which costs $14.

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