The potential danger of the coming fire season, exacerbated by the number of dead and dying pines, was the main topic at the June 10 Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting.
“Everyone can see what’s going on with the trees,” said Cal Fire Unit Forester Gregg Bratcher. “Garner Valley has been hit very hard.”
The current drought is creating devastation for the Hill’s pines, according to Bratcher. Not only does the lack of water reduce the tree’s ability to produce resin or pitch to expel the bark beetle, but it is also enabling blackleaf pine scale, a native pine pest, which also stresses the pines and weakens their ability to repel the bark beetle.
Not only has the drought enabled the bark beetle to kill pines, but the Ips beetle is becoming a significant threat to pines, especially further north. Cal Fire estimates that 85 percent of the pines in Cambria County may be dead or dying from the beetles.
“2015 appears it will be worse than 2014. There is no end in sight,” said Cal Fire Information Officer Daniel Berlant in a video. And local landscaper Mark Taylor added, “[The situation] appears overwhelming.”
Pine chips, under the trees, can be used to hold moisture in the ground, which will help, Bratcher and others agreed. However, the chips’ depth should be limited to 2 inches; otherwise, they also pose a greater danger of carrying fire if it occurs.
Thinning tree stands is one of Bratcher’s recommendations. In agreement was Norm Walker of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council and a former Forest Service fire officer on the Hill.
“Active management is the key,” he added. “I believe active management is the only way. We can’t let a total burn-off occur or it will transform the Hill into a high-desert eco-system.”
Riverside County Fire has funds to help remove dead and dying trees, Bratcher said, but the waiting period is between two and three weeks. The local unit’s phone number is 951-659-3337. Edwina Scott of the MCFSC added that calls to them will be forwarded to Cal Fire.
Also at the meeting, Matt Hickman of the Riverside County Department of Waste Resources discussed the grinding site. He explained that the tonnage of green waste declined significantly in the past years, which is why the county, who recently resumed management of the site from a contractor, reduced its days to two.
However, he is trying to shift the Saturday open day to a second weekday in response to comments from local tree cutters.
“The volume has been only 38 tons since the middle of May,” he said. “We need more volume. If there is an increase, we can adjust appropriately.”
The county has bought its own grinder, which will be available here and in Beaumont in the fall.
And Bratcher stressed that oaks, which are infested with Gold-spotted oakborers, should be ground within 72 hours, particularly this time of year through the fall. Currently, when Cal Fire removes an oak, it is taken of the Hill to be ground up to avoid the oak borer escaping. In the winter, when a flight season is unlikely, the risk is much less, he added.
Both Chief Freddie Espinoza, the Forest Service’s San Jacinto Ranger District fire officer, and Chief Bill Weiser of the Riverside County Fire Department, said their agencies had already added staff in anticipation of the fire season. The Forest Service has stationed a helicopter at the Keenwild Helibase and the Cal Fire air attack crews are stationed at Hemet-Ryan Air Base.
During agency reports, Forest Service Battalion Chief Chris Fogle reported that the “Pumpkin” would be installed at its Dutch Flats’ location on Friday. This is needed as a source of water for helicopters since Foster Lake is dry.