Shortly after being appointed to the Idylwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) Board of Commissioners in July 2008, I ran across California Public Resources Code 4125, which deals with the establishment of “State Responsibility Areas”(SRAs) by the California State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in wildland areas such as ours.

Section 4125(a) reads, “The board shall classify all lands within the state, without regard to any classification of lands made by or for any federal agency or purpose, for the purpose of determining areas in which the financial responsibility of preventing and suppressing fires is primarily the responsibility of the state. The prevention and suppression of fires in all areas that are not so classified is primarily the responsibility of local or federal agencies as the case may be.” (Underlining added.)

I also learned that Idyllwild lies entirely within the limits of a designated SRA and, most important, that the state (CALFIRE) does absolutely nothing in terms of assuming the financial responsibility for the prevention of fires within the SRA (excluding Pine Cove, Garner Valley, Anza and Poppet Flat).

It is also worth noting that an SRA specifically excludes buildings and structures, which is the primary responsibility of IFPD.

So, wouldn’t you think that CAL FIRE would be required by law to either enforce state laws regarding abatement as it applies to the forest, not including building or structures, or pay someone else to do it — someone like IFPD?

After finding all this out, I drafted a letter, signed by the board president, to the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. I probably would have never received a reply if it were not for the help of then State Assemblyman John Benoit’s office. Following that, I exchanged emails and numerous phone calls with George Gentry executive director of the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. Of course, I got nowhere, except for one brief comment he made, which was, “You’re right.”

Along the way, however I was told that CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service have a standing agreement that in cases such as ours, where we are a relatively small SRA surrounded by federal forests, that the U.S. Forest Service will take responsibility. So, I met with a local Forest Service battalion chief, and was told that they take no actions of any kind regarding our SRA, let alone doing inspections, and furthermore, would not assume primary responsibility for fires within the SRA unless the fire starts in the federal forest and spreads into Idyllwild.

Why do I bring this up now? Because we are all about to be slapped with a $150 annual fee to help fund CAL FIRE, for absolutely nothing in return! We don’t owe them money, they owe us, for refusing to obey the law!

I strongly suggest that you write to your state Assemblyman, Brian Nestande at State Capitol, Room 4139, Sacramento, CA 95814, and state Senator Bill Emmerson at State Capitol, Room 4082, Sacramento CA 95814 (the governor, too, if you like), and scream bloody murder.

Ben Killingsworth
Commissioner Idyllwild Fire Protection District