Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council President Mike Esnard Photo by J.P. Crumrine
While the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce is reviewing its goals and objectives, the group is preparing for the 2012 fire season, which may be longer and drier than recent years.

The members began revising the organization’s objectives at its November meeting. The current set was developed in 2003 in response to the bark beetle infestation.

“There’s been a change in the people involved, maybe the priorities have changed from the bark beetle to other things,” said Bill Weiser, Riverside County Fire Department battalion chief. “There’s also been a large cut in funding.”

While much has occurred since MAST’s conception, the effort and preparation continues. Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins encouraged the group to bring these guidelines up to date, too.

“I think it is a very healthy thing to do,” he said. “Every two weeks the Board of Supervisors renews the emergency declaration. I personally feel the emergency is still necessary because of the longterm drought and accumulation of dead fuels.”

Marge Muir, Pine Cove resident and real estate agent, told the group that its public relations efforts tend to be directed primarily internally and “I think you’re missing new people outside of the system.” She suggested more effort to reach the general public.

During the discussion of the use of benefit-cost analyses, Mary Beth Najera, director of resources and restoration on the San Bernardino National forest told the assembly that the Forest Service’s fire laboratory was developing a model of the forest benefits, which eventually would be used to evaluate prescribe burns and other forest treatments.

This part of the session ended with a commitment to have a draft version of the revised goals for the May meeting. When the new set of goals and objectives are adopted, Weiser believes they will be MAST’s road map for the next five to six years.

After looking years into the future, the group shortened its view to the coming summer fire season. All of the agencies expressed concern about the affects of the dry winter on the potential vegetative fuels in the next six to eight months.

Looking to the potential for pulling in additional firefighting resources, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Geoff Raya suggested bringing tribal departments into the MAST structure. “There are four reservations within the area, each with fire departments and equipment,” he noted. “We need to involve them in MAST meetings.”

Spring drill
Consequently, Gina Moran-McGough emergency services coordinator with the county’s Office of Emergency Services, is organizing a spring exercise, which will involve many of the summer camps in the Idyllwild and Garner Valley areas.

The 2011 exercise which included Hemet Unified School District identified the need to improve the camps’ involvement and awareness of emergency procedures and informing the public safety agencies of any special situations or needs at the various camps.

After discussing the exercise objectives with the MAST incident commanders, Moran-McGough expects the drill to occur in mid-June.

Agency activity

Forest Service
The dry winter has caused the Forest Service to place higher fire restrictions in the San Bernardino National Forest than normally occur during the winter months. Consequently, no burning has occurred, although work continues to prepare piles if the weather changes and burning would be safe, according to District Fire Chief Dan Felix.

Preparation has continued near the Alhatti Lodge and in the Lawler Lodge area, said Battalion Chief Chris Fogle.

The agency is also completing its environmental analysis necessary to begin maintenance of three local fuel breaks — West Ridge, Strawberry and Pine Cove.

In addition, work has begun to authorize two timber sales in the local district. One would be in the Dark Canyon area and the other in Garner Valley in the Thomas Mountain vicinity and May Valley, according to Lee Beyer, Forest Service forestry technician. There may be 100 trees that need removing, he said.

Riverside County Fire
Similar to the Forest Service, county fire is working cautiously and hoping for some late winter snow or rains which would permit pile burning, Weiser reported. Maintenance of the Red Truck Fuel Break is complete.

Southern California Edison
Dave Simmons reported that there is a current lull in the Edison removal program, but they have been active throughout 2011 and will soon begin work again on the Hill.

MAST Goals from 2003

  1. Provide for public and employee safety
    • Transportation routes and utilities corridors (evacuation/economic well being);
    • Communication infrastructure;
    • Community protection.
  2. Develop and implement the following plans:
    • Immediate — evacuation structure contingency, transportation and utility corridors, communication sites, damage assessment and dead tree removal;
    • Mid-term — transition from immediate actions to long term community protection, regeneration and forest health;
    • Long-term – strategic actions leading to continued forest health and community safety.
  3. Provide for coordinated public relations program with the public, elected officials and within agencies.
  4. Provide for coordinated agency responses through the following tactics:
    • Maintain emergency response capability including structure protection contingency;
    • Prioritize and maintain transportation and utility corridors and communication sites;
    • Prioritize community protection through defensible fuel profile zones, hazard tree abatement fuel breaks and fire law/code enforcement;
    • Provide for removal of trees and slash through solid waste management and development of private sector utilization and markets.
  5. Provide cost/benefit analysis of actions based upon objectives.
  6. Identify and develop financial aid opportunities through grants and incentives.