When the call crackled across Fresno police radio, even officers were incredulous:
“Report of a bear at Orange and North …”
But as patrol cars and pursuing reporters and photojournalists rolled in, they found it was true: There was a black bear – sort of orangish-red, actually – ambling near a ponding basin at the Orange Avenue dump in south Fresno.
There were witnesses.
“He’s right in there,” a dump worker shouted to Lt. Joe Gomez, as he pointed to some heavy brush along Orange Avenue.
“That’s crazy,” someone said to Gomez.
“Yes, it is,” laughed Gomez, who serves as the police spokesman and now appeared to be ad hoc leader of a hastily assembled bear hunting expedition.
How did he get here? Everyone wondered. It appeared the bear was a hitchhiker, an alien presence minding his own business dining in a Dumpster at Hume Lake when a trash truck arrived and carried him down the hill, through Fresno and dropped him off at the dump. The truck driver was the first to spot him as he rolled from the trash bay. Then, a dump worker, who did not want to identify himself for fear of repercussions, said he spotted the bear scrambling into thick underbrush at the dump perimeter.
Animal control and police conferred. A marksman from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, wildlife biologist Dan Fidler, was called in to fire a tranquilizer dart at the bear – who appeared to be a yearling weighing between 75 and 100 pounds.
Bear in custody.
Fresno police Lt. Joe Gomez
Reporters drove on rain-soaked dirt roads to get a glimpse of the bear. They assembled camera tripods in a line and it looked like the Hollywood press corps at the Oscars, except instead of a red carpet there was thick, sticky brown mud.
Speculation ensued. A reporter placed a call to Hume Lake and said the bear might be named Cinnamon, but this could not be established.
“I don’t know any of the bears by name,” said a woman who identified herself as Amber when she answered the phone at Hume Lake Christian Camp.
The hunter moved in.
“He’s right next to that big dead tree,” someone else pointed out to reporters and police. An officer on a towering hill overlooking the dump served as a spotter.
“High ground,” joked Gomez, a former Marine.
A few minutes later, the shot was fired and the bear was captured. He appeared to be in a deep sleep with his large pink tongue sticking out of his muzzle when he was placed in the back of a Fish and Wildlife truck for a return to the mountains.
“Bear in custody,” said Gomez.