New Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Director Named

"I am excited for this new opportunity and look forward to the challenges the Forest Service and fire management face today in light of the growing length and severity of our fire seasons. I am honored to represent the U.S. Forest Service and lead the best wildland firefighting organization in the world," Shawna Legarza said.

As western wildfires made national headlines June 17 -- especially the Sherpa fire in Santa Barbara County, California, which more than doubled in size to almost 6,000 acres and by June 19 had increased to 7,811 acres, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reported -- the U.S. Forest Service named a new national director to oversee its national fire and aviation management program. Shawna Legarza, who has more than 25 years of wildland fire management experience, is the new director, Chief Tom Tidwell announced. Legarza is as the regional director of Fire and Aviation in the Pacific Southwest Region, California, based in Vallejo; she now takes on a critical leadership role to help create resilient landscapes and fire adapted communities, while responding to wildland fires, a task the Forest Service has managed for more than 100 years.

A major heat wave in the West is contributing to the spread of numerous wildfires. Temperatures across Southern California topped 100 on June 19, with a 106-degree record set in Burbank and a National Weather Service weather site recording 112 degrees in Beverly Hills. Yuma, Ariz., recorded a record of 119 degrees, while Tuscon and Phoenix also set records with 115 and 118, respectively, the latter being the fifth-highest daily recorded temperature at Sky Harbor International Airport, The Arizona Republic reported.

"I have great confidence in the experience and professionalism Shawna brings into this vital role at the U.S. Forest Service," Tidwell said. "Shawna's leadership within the wildland fire community and the relationships she developed throughout her career make her the best fit for the job."

The Pacific Southwest Region has one of the most active and severe wildland fire seasons in the country, according to USFS.

"I am excited for this new opportunity and look forward to the challenges the Forest Service and fire management face today in light of the growing length and severity of our fire seasons. I am honored to represent the U.S. Forest Service and lead the best wildland firefighting organization in the world. Thank you to those folks that have contributed to my career and educational experiences, I am very thankful," she said.

Legarza started her federal career with the Bureau of Land Management in 1989 as an engine crew member in Elko, Nev., later joining USFS and working as a hotshot crew member in Carson City, Nev., and a Hotshot Superintendent in Durango, Colo. She has been District Fire Management Officer on the San Juan National Forest, Colo., and Forest Fire Management Officer on the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California; she worked at the World Trade Center 9/11 recovery efforts, according to the agency.

Legarza replaces Tom Harbour, who retired in January after a 46-year career with the Forest Service. Legarza will be replaced in Region 5 by Acting Fire & Aviation Director Patty Grantham, forest supervisor of the Klamath National Forest.

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