As Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins reminded local fire officials at last week’s Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting, the 2016 fire season is approaching quickly.

“MAST is about preparation and cooperation,” he stressed. “We do all we can in a systems approach to reduce probable threats ahead.”

Confirming Hawkins’ statement, items discussed during the meeting focused on planning and actions taken this winter to assist residents, contractors and public agencies during fire season.

For example, Edwina Scott, executive director of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, reported that the roofing grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration was nearly complete. There are some funds available through the middle of May.

The MCFSC has helped replace 92 shake shingle roofs in town, and seven more are being replaced.

The 2014 grant funds ($180,000) have been expended for fuels reductions work on 117 parcels. The MCFSC’s 2015 grant funds have already completed work on 10 parcels.

Both the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire are completing pile burn projects as well as work on the fuel breaks surrounding the Idyllwild and Pine Cove communities.

Forest Service Fire Chief Fred Espinosa said the agency is awaiting a good weather window to pursue its plan of work on Thomas Mountain in Garner Valley.

Hawkins also stressed that all fire command officers, who may be responsible for fighting fires on the Hill, should know the location of all fuel breaks and under what conditions they should be defended.

Besides fire season, spring helps identify the damage due to infestation of the bark beetle and the Goldspotted oak borer. Both pests are still prevalent on the Hill and continue to kill off pines and oaks.

While Southern California Edison’s work on the Hill has diminished since last summer, Project Manager Dave Simmons said, “From January 1, nearly 120 trees have been removed and the backlog is 20. With summer coming, we’re waiting for another flair up.”

Cal Fire’s Mountain Resource Chief Gregg Bratcher reported that four more trees have been identified as victims of the GSOB. He asked the community to be looking for additional trees during spring.

“The spring leaf out is time to pay attention,” he advised. “The new leaves are usually smaller and dead leaves are still hanging on these trees.”

Also the County Waste Resources department is considering to move a grinder to its local site full time for the summer. This is important when oaks are removed because of GSOB infestation. Summer is flight season and the trees cannot remain whole for more than a few days or the GSOB will escape.

The presence of a grinder might also increase the eradication effort, Bratcher suggested. “It would be more cost-effective and more efficient for the community,” he said.

This winter, the station has ground almost 1,000 tons according to Paul Spencer of the agency.

Currently the grinding station is open Tuesday and Friday. In May, it will also be open Saturday, according to Spencer; but they will look at changing that to Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

With the approaching fire season, both Cal Fire and the Forest Service will have additional crews trained and stationed on the Hill by June 1. Also training on the use of the water pumpkin kept near the Mountain Resource Center is being planned.

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