If anything good comes out of the two major fires on the Hill this summer, I hope it’s a renewed interest and commitment in making our communities fire safe. The Mountain and the Silver fires should serve as reminders of our vulnerability.
So I hope we again ask the question, “What can we do to keep ourselves safe from wildfire?”
Of course, the first thing is to handle our own responsibilities, making sure homes are properly abated, with good roofs and vents. We can also encourage and support fire agencies in performing inspections to make sure homes are in compliance with fire codes.
But don’t stop there. As citizens, we can support fire agencies in maintaining fuelbreaks and reducing hazardous fuels around the community. This is to slow a fire approaching (or leaving) the community, and as we just saw, this is a critical issue in fire suppression.
It’s not that the agencies responsible for this work are either unaware or unwilling to do the work. The issues that stymie the work are two and interconnected: money and environmental regulations.
The money issue is obvious, since fuels budgets are inadequate to the task and need increasing. But a change in environmental regulation would also help. Requiring another environmental study to do work on an established fuelbreak is expensive and foolish.
So I hope anytime we have an occasion to talk to political leaders, whether county, state or federal, as well as fire agencies leaders, we let them know we’re concerned about fire safety of the community and want fuelbreaks surrounding it to be well maintained. When the issue of cost comes up, we can point out that prevention is a great deal cheaper than suppression, and much safer.
On another topic, we are grateful to the firefighters who fought the recent fires, but I also want to compliment the Riverside County Office of Emergency Services, the sheriff’s office, as well as the community, for how well the evacuation went during the Mountain Fire.
Emergency service personnel spend a lot of time planning and worrying about large evacuations. A lot of things can go wrong, and a lot of people can get hurt if they do. But in our case everything went very smoothly.
Idyllwild seemed safe from the fire the first day as it moved east, but when it threatened to loop back toward town from Saddle Junction, fire managers needed to think about moving out residents.
Gina Moran-McGough, OES, was there with the evacuation plans the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce developed over the years. (She keeps them in her trunk, just in case.)
When the threat began to increase, Gina and her colleagues called the camps, alerting them to a soon-to-be-issued evacuation order.
When the evacuation order came, people from the camps and town were able to leave the mountain successfully and without incident. This is a tribute to good planning by all involved, and to the calm and cooperative spirit of the community.