The Strong Fire, reported shortly after noon Monday along Strong Drive, was no match for human strength. Following on the heels of a mandatory evacuation because of the Mountain Fire in July, the vegetation fire in Idyllwild brought panic but quick response as not only firefighters, but neighbors, readily quashed the blaze.
By 1 p.m. it had burned about 2 acres, according to Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz. It was quickly contained and controlled.
Firefighters from Idyllwild Fire Department, Cal Fire, and the U.S. Forest Service immediately surrounded the blaze, which produced several clouds of smoke visible throughout town. Air resources were also dispatched to the fire, but were not needed and released.
Before fire engines and crews arrived, local citizens began fighting the blaze themselves as it moved from Strong Drive toward Tahquitz View Drive. If it had escaped that area, the Ernie Maxwell Trail’s lower terminus and forest below Southridge were next in the fire’s path.
Anne and Steve Erler, who live on Tahquitz View, were about to have lunch when Steve got a call from his wife Anne alerting him to the fire. He called 9-1-1 and reported the fire. Erler, Fern Valley Water District general manager, also asked one of his staff, Adam Baker, to get the hose from FVWD’s warehouse. After Baker arrived with the equipment, Erler attached it to a hydrant on Tahquitz Valley Drive and began putting water on the fire until firefighters arrived.
Mike Morton and Cail Myer of Idyllwild Heating and Cooling saw the smoke plumes and “coded to the site,” Morton said. He grabbed a shovel and began constructing a line on the fire’s right flank while fire units arrived but he kept working.
Besides the aircraft, units had been dispatched from Cal Fire stations on the Hill, Reitz said, as U.S. Forest Service and four hand crews were assembling to come. IFPD’s initial response was the fire engine and ambulance, quickly followed by the brush truck, squad and Messian Water.
“It was a good coordinated effort. We appreciated the help and needed everybody,” Reitz said Monday evening.
Once secured, IFPD handed the investigation to Cal Fire. At this time the cause has not been identified but some observers thought they saw downed power lines in the vicinity. “But whether they were the cause of the fire or the fire caused that, I don’t know,” said Reitz.