Optimism and good news were prevalent at last week’s Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting. Fire officials from forest fire agencies — U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and CAL FIRE — discussed their preparations for the 2012 fire season that has already begun.

CAL FIRE stressed the availability of air tankers and helicopters from its Hemet-Ryan Air base since the Forest Service’s air tanker fleet has diminished in recent years.

Reporting for the Forest Service, Battalion Chief Richard Gearhart said current staffing is sufficient to man four effective engines seven days a week. By the end of May after additional seasonal hiring, the agency will have seven engines seven days on the Hill.

Also the helicopter stationed at the Keenwild Ranger Station should be available the first week of June, he said.

Vicki Washington, BLM, said, “We’re staffing now and have both engines ready.”

CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Bill Weiser said all their stations were staffed and training was already started.

On Friday, CAL FIRE had an open house at Hemet-Ryan for the public to see air tankers and helicopters stationed there (see accompanying story).

Everyone acknowledged this could be a dangerous fire season. Although the yearly rainfall has been below normal, the late winter and early spring precipitation delayed the vegetation blooming.

In the valley, wild grasses have already cured creating danger. Last week, CAL FIRE had two fires greater than 30 acres.

The Forest Service is conducting environmental analyses of most of the existing fuel breaks, in order to begin maintenance work on these areas, according to the Forest Service’s Forest Technician Lee Beyer.

In other business, Weiser established a committee to begin reviewing and preparing updates to the organizations of current goals and objectives. He hopes to present a revised set to all the agencies at the August meeting. If anyone has suggestions, they can be emailed to Chief Weiser at [email protected]

Although no major tabletop exercise is scheduled for this year, Weiser hopes to organize one for 2013. Peter Lent, Riverside County Office of Emergency Services deputy director, said his staff is working on ensuring communication links with Hill camps in case of emergencies.