Although the town of Idyllwild, several thousand people, had been evacuated, a mobile city of about 3,500 people was quickly constructed in Garner Valley.
Mountain Fire city is a company town — nearly 3,300 firefighting professionals. With that many people, where do they work, eat and sleep?
The company business is to contain and eventually control a 25,000-acre wildland fire. The Mountain Fire is not burning in timberland criss-crossed with access roads. This fire chose to birth itself in steep terrain — wilderness that rises from 5,000 to 9,000 feet in an extremely dry summer.
While crews were building fire lines, back at camp a kitchen crew of several trucks was preparing to feed 3,000 residents. As Tom Efird, Incident team PIO, said, “There’s only one restaurant in town.”
Hundreds of sinks, showers and laundry facilities — with 24-hour service — had to be brought to the site as well. During morning and evening briefings, the safety message included a warning to be sure to wash in order to avoid “camp crud.”
Water had to be plentiful, not just for cleanliness. Once on the job site, firefighters can take a coffee break and drive back to town. Before each shift they have to load the vehicles with cases of water to ensure against dehydration on the job.
Mountain Fire city is comparable to a small town. It has its own medical staff, who speak during the briefings, and human resources and local communication (radios) staff as well. The city also has a post office, courtesy of Lake Hemet Market.
In addition, the team has biological, botanical and archeological resource experts. These people try to assure protection of those assets during the fire protection activities. For example, Friday’s forester advised that fire crews not land helicopters in Hidden Lake up in the Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness.
During the briefings, George Broyles, team information officer, provides sports reports such as announcing the commencement of the national curling championships.
And photocopying services are an important component of the town. At each briefing (two daily), team leaders have a report of the day or night’s activity and other special messages. Each report can be 10 to 15 double-sided pages.
Many of the support services, such as cooking, laundry and supplying fuel are provided through contracts with the U.S. Forest Service or CalFire.
Consequently, the population figure of 3,316 underestimated the number of people who came to the Hill’s protection.