A large scale, wildland-urban interface fire exercise will be held Thursday morning, May 22, in the Idyllwild and Pine Cove communities. Organized by the Riverside County Fire Chief’s Association, the exercise will allow fire, law enforcement and animal service agencies to field-simulate a major fire rapidly approaching the two communities.

The exercise will focus on several general objectives, according to RCFD Chief John Hawkins. It’s an opportunity to exercise a unified command at a major wildland fire threatening both the forest and multiple communities.

Many public safety agencies will be participating. “All fire, law enforcement and animal services will be invited. So far, the RSVPs have been very positive,” Hawkins said. Among the various agencies will be Idyllwild Fire, Cal Fire, Riverside County Fire and Sheriff’s departments, the U.S. Forest Service, the California Highway Patrol, and the county’s Office of Emergency Services and Animal Services.

Also, local participants in the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce, Mountain Emergency Services Committee and Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, as well as elected officials, have been invited, Hawkins added.

The unified commanders will be expected to develop and implement an Incident Action Plan establishing an incident organization and a unified incident command post. They will have to staff the organization, mobilize communication centers, and direct and control incident fire resources, including the simulation of community evacuations.

After the exercise is over, the plan’s effectiveness will be evaluated. “We will have evaluative criteria that exercise facilitators will use to judge our readiness,” Hawkins affirmed. “We want to learn and practice the necessary emergency management and build interagency relationships with governmental groups and individuals.

“We believe in the adage, ‘We play the way we practice,’” Hawkins stressed.

Past MAST planning efforts and pre-fire suppression improvements will guide the exercise.

Cal Fire/RCFD Chief Kevin Gaines is heading the planning for the exercise, Hawkins announced. “He is assembling a multiagency exercise design and execution team. County OES will be involved with both the exercise design and execution and during the exercise,” Hawkins said.

Since the exercise has the potential to affect traffic that morning, Hawkins said, “As we did with the 2005 Bear Trap exercise, we will closely involve traffic agencies.”

A similar drill was held in the Idyllwild area during June 2005.