“Wooldozers” Reduce Fire Hazards

“Wooldozers” Reduce Fire Hazards

APOLITO ORESURRINAGA is a husky, good-looking shepherd tending sheep in the Chino Hills of Southern California. His occupation is a strange paradox as shepherds are not normally associated with the aerospace industry, nor does the peaceful scene of Apolito and his intelligent dogs caring for their flock among the hills, valleys and woods seem like the efficient safety and cost reduction operation of a large industrial corporation. But it is!

“These sheep are the most economical and efficient fire fighters we have,” stated A. A. Miller, manager, Administration and Technical Services Division of Aerojet-General Corporation’s Downey plant. “The hazard of small brush and grass fires was a frequent worry during the late spring and dry summer months,” he explained. “To reduce this problem, we hired bulldozers to cut firebreaks and we also conducted control burning in some areas at the Downey plant’s Chino Hills Ordnance Laboratory. However, when a fire broke out, the firebreak cut by the bulldozers would simply isolate it. But, now the sheep and wild deer have practically eliminated the hazard of fires by grazing on the dry grass and trampling down the weeds and bushes.”

Costs reduced

“We’ve been running 900 four-legged ‘wooldozers’ for two years now,” he said, “and last year our costs were reduced by $3,010—the price we’d normally pay for bulldozer services and other fire precautions.”

When the program started, Aerojet had neither sheep nor shepherd on its payrolls. Consequently, the company contracted with Frank Jean Arretches, a nearby livestock owner, to run one of his flocks on Aerojet’s Chino Hills property to reduce fire hazards. Arretches imports his shepherds from among the Basque people living in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain. Apolito, one of 10 children living on a farm in the province of Viscaya, has completed nearly half of his three-year contract with Arretches.

At the expiration of his contract, Apolito will return home with probably enough money to start his own flock if he chooses. Other than an infrequent visit from his unde and cousin who are working under similar contracts in Northern California, Apolito works and lives alone with his three dogs, a goat (who provides milk for him and the dogs) and their flock.

Within sight of the frantic freeways and near the busy industrial city of Los Angeles, Apolito, who speaks only Basque and Spanish, leads a very simple life. Like the shepherds of old. he is entirely devoted to his flock. He never leaves them. He is an island of simplicity amid a sea of industrial complexity. Apolito knows his sheep and they know him.

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