Former local fire chief to oversee national program

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Shawna Legarza, former fire chief for the San Bernardino National Forest, will be the next national director of Fire and Aviation Management for the U.S. Forest Service, Chief Tom Tidwell announced Friday, June 17.

Legarza, who serves as the regional director of Fire and Aviation in the Pacific Southwest Region, California, will take on the leadership role to help create resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities, while putting safety and lives first in responding to wildland fire.

The Forest Service has managed wildland fire for more than 100 years. While fire is a natural process necessary for the maintenance of many ecosystems, in the past two decades, extreme wildfire behavior has escalated, accompanied by significant increases in risk to responders, citizens, homes and businesses, as well as suppression costs and threats to communities and ecosystems.

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

From the SBNF, Legarza was appointed fire and aviation director of the Pacific Southwest Region (headquartered in Vallejo). Region 5 experiences one of the most active and severe wildland fire seasons in the country.

In her new role, Legarza will oversee the Forest Service’s fire and aviation management, wildland fire operations, including hazardous fuel reduction, and will advance efforts to create a culture of safety and improved decision-making for wildland fire suppression.

In the release, Legarza was quoted as saying, “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.”

Legarza launched her federal career with the Bureau of Land Management in 1989 as an engine crew member in Elko, Nevada. A short time later, she joined the Forest Service and worked as a hotshot crew member in Carson City, Nevada, and a hotshot superintendent in Durango, Colorado. She subsequently took on a number of leadership positions in fire and aviation that include district fire management officer on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado before coming to the SBNF.

She has represented the Forest Service at the regional scale, serving on the California Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, the California Wildfire Coordinating Group and FIRESCOPE.

In addition to her fire experience, she worked at the World Trade Center 9/11 recovery efforts, Hurricane Rita and the Greensburg Tornado, with significant contribution to agency leadership curriculums in fire management.

Legarza earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and doctorate of psychology at the University of the Rockies, Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She replaces Tom Harbour who retired in January after a 46-year career with the Forest Service.

Fire and Aviation Director Patty Grantham, forest supervisor on the Klamath National Forest, will replace Legarza in Region 5. Grantham has worked on six national forests across the West and holds a bachelor’s degree in Forest Science from the University of Washington.

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