Chic Fojtik displays the Idyllwild Garden Club warning signs to be posted along Highways 74 and 243. Photos by J.P. Crumrine

Besides the Goldspotted oak borer, members of the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce discussed several other issues affecting the Hill’s safety.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration grant to replace wood shingles with fire resistant roofing has received its final approval.

The issuance of funding is the next step, according to Edwina Scott, executive director of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council.

However, the state contact was not able to specify when the funds would be released.

Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council President Michael Esnard reported that he was continuing to seek partners for a Hill biomass co-generation plant. Discussions with Forest Service officials have been very positive, he said and added that he has also begun a conversation about the project with Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone.

Caltrans’ assistance became a popular topic. Two specific requests were made to formally seek Caltrans support for highway information signs.

John Exline, the new deputy forest supervisor for the San Bernardino National Forest, attends the MAST meeting. Photos by J.P. Crumrine

WNKI, the local emergency radio station, is ready to resume full operations. The retirement of former manager Bob McCullough had limited its use.

However, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz expressed concern about missing highway signs, which announced WNKI as the emergency station and its frequency.

He has approached Caltrans, but asked support from his colleagues

“In years past, we considered WNKI an integral part of any emergency situation on the Hill,” said John Miller, the information officer on the San Bernardino National Forest. “We’re hoping it returns to that level.” He then offered to help with Caltrans in San Bernardino.

The Idyllwild Garden Club’s signs advising travelers to the Hill to leave firewood at home are ready to be posted, according to Mike Feyder. The club has prepared 10 signs and has agreements with several local landowners along Highways 74 and 243 to place the signs in key spots; however, Feyder and Chic Fojtik solicited the MAST members support to obtain Caltrans approval for placing the signs closer to the bottom of the Hill.

Tom Coleman, Forest Service entomologist, suggested that Feyder contact the California Forest Pest Council for support. Then Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins offered to have 10 large signs made.

In other agency news, Randy Unkovich, the fire prevention officer for the San Bernardino National Forest, said the agency is trying to fill as many of its full-time units as possible.

“The Fawnskin Fire was an eye opener,” he said. “We want to be fully staffed for an early fire season.”

He specifically stated that the federal sequestration actions have had no effect on the Forest’s fire resources.

The Forest Service still hopes to be able to conduct some burns near Bonita Vista in May, according to San Jacinto Ranger District Fire Chief Dan Felix.

They also are continuing the fuel modification work on Thomas Mountain.

CAL FIRE has added an extra type 3 engine in Garner Valley, according to Mountain Battalion Chief Sean Dakin. He expects the agency to be fully staffed for fire season in the next several weeks.