The Riverside County Fire Chiefs Association has organized a major fire exercise on the Hill for Thursday, May 22.

“It will offer several challenges to participant agencies,” said Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins. “It will be a rapid response requiring unified command and a communication center, along with resource allocations.”

Residents should neither be surprised nor fearful to see many fire vehicles and equipment moving around the Hill throughout that morning. According to Cal Fire/RCFD Division Chief Kevin Gaines, the exercise design incident commander, 40 to 45 fire engines may be visible on the Hill and in town that morning.

Signs will be posted throughout town and on the highways alerting drivers to the ongoing fire exercise, said Jody Hagemann, senior public information specialist for Cal Fire/RCFD.

The Incident Command post will be at Idyllwild Pines Camp, so the presence of fire equipment, California Highway Patrol or Sheriff’s Department vehicles does not indicate an ongoing fire or crime.

“I just hope we don’t have so many fires that we can’t do it,” Gaines said. “This will be a very valuable exercise for all the agencies.”

This will be a major fire drill that includes the activation of the county’s emergency operations center and unified command during the exercise. Hagemann suggested it will be a full-scale simulation with the challenge for the pubic safety agencies to be ready and to react.

The last major fire exercise on the Hill was nearly a decade ago in June 2005. Nearly a dozen different federal, state and local agencies participated in that drill to combat an imaginary fire burning through Bear Trap Canyon from Idyllwild Arts to Pine Cove. One of the objectives of this exercise was to test an evacuation plan, which the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce had prepared.

The value and quality of those evacuation plans were demonstrated last summer as the Mountain Fire burned from Keenwild south into Garner Valley and north on the eastern edge of the mountain.

Besides the local fire agencies — Idyllwild Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service and RCFD — and law enforcement, several other nearby fire departments will be involved, including Hemet, Cathedral City, Palm Springs, Corona, Murietta and perhaps others.