Although attendance was less than normal, firefighters at the Mountain Area Safety taskforce meeting were alert and wary.
August is the middle of fire season and the extremely high daytime temperatures and dry days pose significant warnings for these public safety officials. Just as the meeting began, firefighters’ cell phones, blackberries and iPads all began chirping.
Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, Riverside County Mountain Battalion Chief Sean Dakin and others grabbed their communication devices, bent their heads to listen better or read the text message, and then quickly and calmly walked from the room.
Eventually, Dakin returned. A small fire at Idyllwild School was quickly extinguished but these weather conditions have every firefighter prepared for a bigger one.
Before the brief interruption, Bill Weiser, RCFD Battalion Chief, introduced Reitz to the other Hill fire agencies and also introduced the new RCFD Bautista Division Chief, Dave Fulcher. He then introduced Chief Greg Bratcher as the new forester on the Hill.
After these introductions, RCFD Fire Chief John Hawkins announced that Weiser was chairing his last MAST meeting. He is now the Battalion Chief for the Cajalco area. Bratcher is replacing Weiser who succeeded Kevin Turner.
The working group that is preparing a revision to MAST goals and objectives was unable to convene since the May meeting. Weiser said they would try to have a draft proposal for the November session.
The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council’s two major projects — a co-generation plant and the cedar shake roof replacement — are moving forward. MCFSC President Mike Esnard related several meetings with producers of electricity from biomass, and research on technology and cost is still being pursued. He is hopeful that MCFSC will meet with vendors next month.
Weiser indicated that both IFPD and RCFD have begun inspecting homes of people requesting roofing grant assistance. MCFSC was beginning to process grant applications.
Few fuel reduction projects are now active on the Hill, but the two land management agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, along with the RCFD, are doing some work and planning for future projects.
Dan Felix, the fire chief for the San Jacinto Ranger District, described the help they have received from the Veterans’ Green Corp, which is arranged through the Civilian Conservation Corp.
“They recruit veterans and put them to work doing fuel project and basic fire training,” Felix said.
A contract for the Thomas Mountain fuels project is nearing award, according to Felix, and plans for winter prescribed burns are being prepared.
Poppet Flat will be a target fuels project in 2013, according to the Bureau of Land Management representative.
CAL FIRE is working on two projects, Upper Dry Creek and near Vista Grande, according to Weiser.