Cal Fire chiefs receive Rotary honors

Two Cal Fire battalion chiefs who led efforts to track down arsonists who started 43 fires in Yosemite Lakes Park two years ago were honored with Paul Harris Fellowship awards by Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary Tuesday morning.

Matt Gilbert and Bernie Quinn, from the Tuolumne-Calaveras and Madera-Mariposa-Merced units respectively received the awards both from the Rotary and at the wishes of Dale Miller, a well-known, active member of the Mountain Area community before he passed away in July.

Under the lead of Gilbert and Quinn, Cal Fire investigators and officers managed to track down Kenneth Jackson and Allison Waterman of Yosemite Lakes Park for starting the rash of blazes between June 8 and 25 in 2013, which destroyed one house.

The two were sentenced in August last year to prison sentences of 30 years, 8 months for Jackson and 10 years, 8 months for Waterman.

“They worked very hard on that case for a long, long time,” said Nancy Koerperich, chief of the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit. “That pretty much was all they did. They lived and breathed it 24/7.”

Gilbert and Quinn didn’t provide too much detail on how they caught the firebugs, as too much information could tip potential arsonists on how to avoid prosecution.

Both did say, however, they were happy to receive the awards, and they would continue serving their communities with pride.

“I felt honored and humble,” Quinn said. “On one end, I think I’m just doing my job. I’ve already been compensated, you know? But it was definitely an honor, I think.”

Koerperich also said former district attorney Michael Keitz, as well as deputy district attorneys Sally Moreno and John Thackeray were instrumental in closing the case.

The Paul Harris Fellowship recognizes individuals who donate $1,000 or more to The Rotary Foundation. Both $1,000 donations were made in honor of Gilbert and Quinn.