Fresno County honors pandemic, Creek Fire heroes at State of the County event

Local News

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – Fresno County honored frontline heroes for their efforts during the pandemic and the Creek Fire during its annual State of the County breakfast on Wednesday.

“Today we’re really focusing on some stories of actual heroism,” said Scott Miller, Fresno Chamber of Commerce President and CEO.

Unlike previous years, the event was held outdoors at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to adhere to health guidelines. About 700 people were in attendance.

The Sierra National Forest fire crews, Cal Fire and the California Army National Guard were some of the honorees Wednesday morning.

“The awards are nice. That’s not why we do this,” said Brady Hlebain, a National Guard Chief Officer, and one of the pilots during the aerial rescue at Mammoth Pools last September.

“The call went something like this: ‘Hey anyone who’s available, people are trapped in a fire in Fresno County.”

He remembers challenges with visibility because of the smoke, and because they don’t normally do a lot of firefighting at night.

“We often fly at high altitude, in the mountains. We often fly with night vision goggles, we fly near smoke, we fly search and rescues. It’s just rare that all those things come together at once.”

He said his 16 years in the army, seven of those as a pilot, prepared him for his efforts during the Creek Fire, but he added that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates.

“Early in the morning we got back and by our count, I think it was 242 people and 11 or 16 dogs.”

Other honorees included Lifebridge Community Church for providing food and other resources in Northwest Fresno; Latoya Woods, a nurse program supervisor with the Department of Public Health for her leadership during the pandemic; and sheriff deputies Jason Ward and Kenneth Ahapple for their lifesaving heroism during a fiery car crash last July.

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