Fire agencies wrapping up busy summer season

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The Mountain Area Task Force met Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 13, at the Idyllwild Nature Center. Here, local first responders led the meeting. (From left), Jerry Hagen, emergency services coordinator for the Riverside County Emergency Management Department; Patrick Reitz, Idyllwild Fire chief; Gregg Bratcher, Riverside County division chief for forestry; and Bill Weiser, Riverside County division chief for the mountain area. Photo by JP Crumrine

U.S. Forest Service participation at the Sept. 13, Mountain Area Safety Taskforce was nonexistent. Forest Service members, who normally attend the local session, were all on fire assignments outside the district and many outside the state, reported Cal Fire Forestry Division Chief Gregg Bratcher, who chaired the meeting.

But those in attendance discussed threats to the local forest and abatement support.

Besides the bark beetle and Goldspotted oak borer, Bratcher said another pest has seriously infested almost all tree species — except for palms and cacti — in the valleys. The polyphagous shot hole borer is a new pest in Southern California, he announced. While attacking trees, it brings a pathogenic fungus that kills the trees.

“A working group is in the works to discuss this,” Bratcher said. “This is a significant issue in Orange County and parts of Riverside County. It attacks many more trees.”

The GSOB remains active on the Hill, Bratcher added. It has now been found in coast live oak, besides black and other local oak species.

The county has some grant funds to produce maps of the GSOB and shot hole borer sightings. These will be useful for preparing management plans, he said.

The GSOB hotline remains 951-659-8328. He urged residents to call if they fear a local oak has been infested with GSOB.

Edwina Scott, executive director of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, said the revision of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan was moving forward. The deadline is the end of November and she expects to easily meet that.

Unfortunately, MCFSC is not getting a new grant from the State Fire Safe Council for 2017. No reason has been shared yet.

But Scott assured the attendees that the organization still has enough money for the year and for several new projects. “It doesn’t mean closed doors now or in the future,” she stressed.

During the agency reports, Cal Fire Division Chief Bill Weiser recommended that the group review and revise the MAST plans next year. He thought the law enforcement and fire agencies needed to reassess the objectives and conditions locally.

Lisa Thompson from the county repeated that the Grinding Station is open three days each week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but closed from noon to 1 p.m. for lunch.

In November, the Grinding Station will be open only two days each week — Wednesday and Friday — until next spring.

She said the station will not accept any wood or debris associated with oaks infested with the Goldspotted oak borer.

Finally, several members mentioned that they had seen trucks with wood for sale. Again, they stressed that residents should only buy and burn locally produced wood. The threat of the shot hole borer increases the problem of bringing wood to the Hill from lower elevations.

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