While on alert during the Santa Ana winds, fire officials are also making plans for enhancing fire protection on the Hill during the winter season. The status of approved projects and early planning for others were discussed at the Oct. 2 Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting.
The federal shutdown has affected the Hill in several ways. Not only have many San Jacinto Ranger District employees been furloughed, but the consequence is that maintenance contracts for fuelbreaks are on hold.
“The shutdown has put a halt to a lot of projects,” said Arturo Delgado, San Jacinto District ranger. “For example, the West Ridge and Strawberry fuelbreaks; I was planning to sign these contracts this week.”
Planning and implementing the Pine Cove fuelbreak should occur next (fiscal) year, according to Delgado. He also hopes that staff can assess May Valley and Bonita Vista.
Fuel work in the district was limited to the Thomas Mountain area during the summer, according to District Fire Chief Dan Felix. Broadcast burning within the district also will be studied next year.
Modifying the current Forest Closure is in abeyance during the shutdown, according to Delgado. “It is to be revised, but the Office of General Counsel review won’t occur during the shutdown,” he said.
After the shutdown, Delgado plans to have a person dedicated to implementing and overseeing contracts for all emergency treatments within the district.
Cal Fire Unit Forester Gregg Bratcher on the Hill reported that work has continued on several 20-acre fuelbreaks, including Dark Canyon.
The Mountain unit is also watching the status of conifers, as well as oaks, during this dry period. Several clusters of pine have been identified as dead or dying from bark beetle attacks, which are more successful during drought periods, according to Bratcher. These clusters have been marked for removal, he added.
Fire Safe Council
The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council has continued its fuel abatement work throughout the summer, reported Chris Kramer, FSC 1st vice president. With funding from two separate grants, the FSC has helped to abate nearly 200 properties, equivalent to 111 acres. Their cost was about $250,000.
Importantly, Kramer told the group that the roof replacement grant work has begun on 19 properties. Another 16 have received authority to proceed.
After evaluating the possibility of developing a bio-mass generation project for the Hill, Kramer said the FSC board has decided to end the project. “The biomass conversion process on the Hill is not feasible at this time,” he said.
The idea had been to use excess and scrap-wood products as fuel in a small electric generator and sell the electricity produced to Southern California Edison.
One model for the idea is the Colmac Energy plant in Mecca, Calif., just south of Indio, which produces 47 megawatts of power. Truckee County in Northern California, with much more biomass, has also put its evaluation of the generation facility on hold.
“We hit some walls with the county,” Kramer said. “There was not a lot of interest and it’s probably not economically feasible here.”
While no longer an active project, the FSC will continue to look for opportunities to revive it in the future, he said.
Mountain Disaster Preparedness
MDP President Mike Feyder and Medical Coordinator Dr. Dick Goldberg attended the meeting to request support to develop plans for camps in case a disaster prevents access or egress from the Hill. “We’re talking about the possibility of a ‘lock-down’ and the need to shelter-in-place for up to 10 days,” Feyder said. “How prepared is the community to sustain itself if isolated for a couple of weeks?” asked Goldberg.
Both Director Peter Lent of Riverside County’s Office of Emergency Services and Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins welcomed the offer and suggested that OES and MDP schedule a meeting to begin developing these types of plans.
“We definitely would like to work together to improve existing systems and plans,” Lent replied. “It’s an opportunity to work together.” He also reminded the group that there will be potential landing sites for helicopters to ferry supplies and physicians if this scenario occurred.