By Blair Ceniceros
Claremont (Formerly of Idyllwild and the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council)
For years, Cal Fire, the Forest Service and the Fire Safe Council have been warning that it wasn’t “if” but rather “when” a forest fire would come to Idyllwild. Now the unthinkable has arrived, but thanks to the years of planning and practice by the Mountain Area Safety Task Force, the ultimate disaster was prevented.
Because of the unprecedented cooperation between the various public safety agencies in forming a unified Incident Command system and detailed plans for evacuation, when the fire broke out responders knew exactly what they were supposed to do.
More than 6,000 people were evacuated from Idyllwild and Pine Cove without mishaps. Thanks to the excellent reporting and online updates by Town Crier staff, we expatriates now in the flatlands were able to keep up with developments on an hour–by-hour basis.
Watching coverage on local and national news programs, I was astounded to hear the Unified Incident commander say that the Idyllwild fire was the number one priority in the nation. Little old Idyllwild? Really? One on-camera comment was, “We’re going to paint the Mountain red.”
The efforts of those firefighters working 24/7 in 90-degree-plus weather, aided by an air strike force, including two jet DC10s and 13 helicopters (with one first-time-locally night-flying helicopter) was nothing short of heroic.
On reflection, I theorized that the determination to save our communities was due to the years of planning and practice by MAST and the abatement work done by Cal Fire, Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, all of which had attracted national attention. MAST is a model for the country. Remarks by Congressman Paul Ruiz, when he visited the command post at Lake Hemet as the Town Crier reported online, seemed to support my theory.
Fighting the fire cost $22.8 million as of this writing. Now residents have returned and are heaping well-deserved praise and thanks on the heroes. Let’s not forget them and not complain when Cal Fire’s fee on hazardous area properties comes up. Praise is cheap, but remember the cost.