Former Fire Chief Dave Driscoll made a presentation about the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy to the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce last week.

When the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act of 2009, a provision in the law mandated the development of a national, cohesive, wildland fire management strategy. Its purpose was to comprehensively address wildland fire management activities and strategies across all lands in the U.S. Shortly after enactment of the law, an intergovernmental planning and analysis process involving the public was initiated and is commonly referred to as the Cohesive Strategy effort.

Driscoll has been working with fire agencies across the country, including the Western Governors Conference, as part of the effort sponsored by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Collaborative efforts to enhance fire protection, as the Hill’s MAST intended from its inception more than a decade ago, have been the goal of local cohesive strategies. Driscoll has promoted Riverside County’s program for several years, he said.

Of the 72,000 communities in the U.S. at risk to wildfire threats, only 20,000 have prepared a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The Hill, under the aegis of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, has a CWPP. Currently, MCFSC is preparing an update to the local plan.

Driscoll stressed that the three biggest challenges to fire protection efforts are landscapes filled with an overgrowth of vegetation, population expanding into the wildland urban interface and the growing risk to firefighters and citizens.

Other programs and policies, which are part of a cohesive strategy, such as defensible space and “Ready, Set, Go” are already familiar to local residents, Driscoll noted.

Dave Driscoll, former San Bernardino County fire chief, discusses a cohesive fire management strategy at last week’s Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting. Photo by J P Crumrine
Dave Driscoll, former San Bernardino County fire chief, discusses a cohesive fire management strategy at last week’s Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting.
Photo by J P Crumrine

“I don’t think there’s anything you guys aren’t doing,” Driscoll said. Despite enhanced fire protection projects, wildfires can still occur. “The true cost of a wildfire can be two to 30 times the suppression costs,” he said.

During the agency roundtable, MCFSC Executive Director Edwina Scott reported that 63 homes have had their wooden cedar shake roofs replaced with fire-resistant shingles in the past year. Another 18 are nearly finished for a total of 81 out of 110 eligible homes.

The Fire Code Committee, which Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins established, has met and is working to find a solution that combines the best of local fire abatement ordinances with the state’s public resource code, said member Sue Nash.

“We’re working to develop a policy for throughout the county to do appropriate fire hazard abatement appropriate to the property in all jurisdictions and have the capability to hire a contractor to do the work,” Nash said.

“I’m confident we’ll move that ahead,” Hawkins added.

The discussion also re-emphasized the threat and danger that the bark beetle and goldspotted oak borer bring to the Hill.

“There’s been a huge increase in bark beetle activity this year,” reported Dave Simmons, Southern California Edison project manager. In all of 2013, about 1,300 trees were removed from the Hill and San Bernardino County. “So far in 2014, we removed about 1,500 trees and expect to cut more than 2,000, maybe closer to 2,500 trees,” Simmons said.

In Idyllwild, about 400 trees have been removed and Simmons expects the total to approach 800 to 900 by the end of the year. From identification to removal takes between six to eight weeks, he said. “But we hope to see that compressed,” Simmons added.

Riverside County Forester Chief Gregg Bratcher reported that the number of trees with confirmed GSOB infestation in this area is now at 52, a 25-percent increase in the past month.

Some property owners are still reluctant to call for identification of GSOB infections, according to Bratcher. But he stressed that Cal Fire cannot remove the damaged trees without the property owner’s permission.

If property owners suspect that an oak tree may be infected, they should first visit the University of California, Riverside’s GSOB site, Then call Cal Fire’s GSOB hotline at 951-659-8328.

Riverside County has received a grant from the U.S. Homeland Security Department to finance a replacement of the county’s current advance warning system, according to Peter Lent, deputy director of Riverside County’s Office of Emergency Services. The original system was installed in 2008 and he hopes the new one will be operational next summer.

He also announced that OES will be working with all of the volunteer groups on the Hill in early December. “There are great volunteer groups on the Hill and great volunteers in the community,” he said. “A recruitment fair is planned as a reach-out to the different volunteer groups.”