About 100 people came to Town Hall last Thursday night to hear and communicate with three fire chiefs representing four jurisdictions on the Hill.
Each chief spoke independently on topics such as yard abatement, house hardening, the upcoming fire season, evacuation during a fire, projects to protect the community and the reverse 911 system.
Unlike landline phones on the Hill, cell phones are not automatically signed up for the reverse 911 system, an automatic system that notifies residents during an emergency, such as evacuation orders. Riverside County/Cal Fire Chief John Hawkins urged residents to sign up their cell phones.
He said the system calls 250,000 numbers an hour and makes six calls to the same number. The county is looking into revising the system to include text messaging.
Hawkins also emphasized concerns about the drought and another dry winter for the third year coupled with high winds that further dry fuels. Testing occurs every two weeks on Manzanita and other chaparral, and the county is seeing a 7- to 10-percent decrease in fuel moisture per week.
Hardening a house to protect it from fire was an important discussion point. This included methods to prevent embers from getting into eaves as well as replacing shake roofs.
Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council President Mike Esnard spoke about the FEMA-funded project to replace shake roofs on the Hill. MCFSC Executive Director Edwina Scott, who organized the meeting, said about 60 roofs had been replaced with 15 more to go.
One highlight of the meeting occurred in the second hour when audience members were given the opportunity to ask questions of the chiefs.
Esnard fielded questions both in paper form and orally for the panel of Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, Hawkins and U.S. Forest Service Fire Chief Dan Felix.
Several people brought up the concern of neighbors not abating their properties and what penalties might be imposed. Hawkins said the Riverside County Board of Supervisors has that in place in valley communities but is reluctant to impose that in the mountains. He recommended the community petition to have that changed.
Another hot topic was recent increased restrictions residents are facing at the transfer station for dumping not only construction materials but green waste. Reitz was asked about the issue and responded that the transfer station was not in his jurisdiction but he would talk to Supervisor Jeff Stone.
Recently, the green waste pile became a fire hazard when it grew large and Esnard complained to Waste Management who removed it. Some of the discussion led to a theory that people are abating more so the green waste pile grew, and therefore, the transfer station can’t keep up.
This led to a discussion on using the green waste for biomass production, a topic MCFSC took on several years ago but ran into roadblocks. Esnard was encouraged at the topic returning to the table.
A question of why Idyllwild Fire was not called sooner to the Mountain Fire of July 2013, received Hawkins’ response, “That was a mistake. That won’t happen in the future,” to audience applaud.
Reitz put Hawkins on the spot when he asked why campers are allowed to have campfires in the campgrounds when local residents are not allowed to have them. Hawkins said he would look into it but would have appreciated having prior notice of the issue.
When asked about an old USFS annual summer tradition of area closures in the national forest to prevent people from starting fires west of the communities, Felix said it isn’t being considered at this time but may be in the future.