Post Mountain Fire evacuation sheriff patrols kept order

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Capt. Scot Collins, Hemet Station commander of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, was prepared from experience for policing the mountain communities during the Mountain Fire that began Monday, July 15, in Mountain Center. That experience and the plans the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce formulated helped direct evacuation, kept the community residences and businesses safe from looters and, after evacuation, netted arrests of several persons with outstanding warrants who had refused to leave.

“Deputies asked questions of anyone who had refused to evacuate and was still walking or riding a bicycle around town, getting to know who they were,” said Collins. “We picked up four people in Idyllwild on outstanding arrest warrants.”

Collins said that the already-developed MAST grid evacuation plan aided his department immeasurably. “They had developed neighborhood grids and we had all that information in books,” he noted. “Every team had their books. We went door-to-door to 2,800 residences. Peter [Lent] and Gina [Moran McGough of county Office of Emergency Services] helped as did the reverse 911 call system.”

Collins mentioned that residents’ advance warning of the fire’s growing danger, through social media, Mountain Disaster Preparedness’ network, online and print reporting in the Town Crier, and WNKI broadcasts had alerted residents that evacuation was possible if not likely. “Eighty percent of the community had already left when we went door to door.” He estimated that 5 percent of the populace stayed behind.

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