The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council hosted a community meeting Saturday to discuss a number of topics, including actions homeowners might take to improve the resistance of their structures to wildfire, the status of the Goldspotted oak borer in Idyllwild and throughout the state (see accompanying story on page 5), and recent and current fire protection projects.
Fire chiefs from the three local agencies, entomologists and forest experts, and members of the MCFSC board were all present at Saturday’s session. Brian Tisdale, from Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington’s staff, spoke briefly, too.
“If it weren’t for the Fire Safe Council getting grants and assistance, the mountain wouldn’t be as safe as it is,” Tisdale said beginning the day.
Actions that can help homes and structures in case of wildland fires was the first topic. Pat Boss, MCFSC project manager, made the presentation.
He began with a description of the fire triangle — oxygen, heat and fuel. “The Fire Safe Council removes fuel as much as possible,” Boss emphasized, “We don’t want to clear cut. But we want to keep fire on the ground.”
Boss described many actions individuals could take to increase protection for their homes from flying embers. In a wildland fire, embers are cast off frequently and can be carried up to a mile ahead of the flames.
Homeowners should inspect their homes and identify places where embers could land and possibly ignite a fire. One of the most significant — replace wood or shake roofs — has been a priority of MCFSC for several years. More than 100 homes have new roofing material because of a MCFSC grant and program.
Some of the other actions that will improve protection include the following: Look for and remove debris such as pine needles or leaves on the roof or in rain gutters; ensure eaves have screens to prevent embers from landing in attics; do not leave patio furniture on the deck, if you leave for several days; replace single-pane windows with double- or triple-pane windows; use metal trash cans rather than plastic; and install a spark arrester on the chimney.
More suggestions may be found on the MCFSC site, www.mcfsc.org/.
The fire officials stressed the importance of defensible space around a house or structure. The absence of defensible space not only increases the likelihood that fire can reach the structure, but it endangers firefighters trying to save the building.
Both the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department have active fuel-reduction projects ongoing or planned on the Hill. And all three fire chiefs — Fred Espinoza, Forest Service; John Hawkins, Riverside County; and Patrick Reitz, Idyllwild — emphasized how much they work together and partner for the community’s protection. While the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce is the focus of this collaboration, it happens outside of the meeting, too.
The Forest Service has been maintaining several fuelbreaks surrounding Idyllwild, Espinoza said. The Westridge Fuelbreak has Forest Service crews cutting vegetation when weather permits and debris piles will likely be burned this spring.
Most of the cutting for the Southridge and Strawberry fuelbreaks is completed and pile burning may start this spring, he added.
Work for the Pine Cove Fuelbreak is out for bid. Espinoza said, “As soon as weather conditions permit, we hope to start and complete it before summer.”
Broadcast burns may occur on or near Thomas Mountain in Garner Valley this year. Also, prescribed burns are planned in future, according to Espinoza.
The Forest Service is planning on full staffing for the San Jacinto Ranger District during fire season. Four battalion chiefs will assist Espinoza, and seven crews at the ranger stations, such as Keenwild and Cranston, will be available, as well as the Hot Shots at Vista Grande and a helicopter.
“These community fuelbreaks mean everything,” Hawkins, who is preparing for his 54th fire season, added. “Each one makes a difference.”
This spring, Riverside County Fire will work on the Ernie Maxwell Trail to improve its ability to slow or stop fires. And Cal Fire will have full staffing for the 2017 fire season, too.
Before closing, Reitz repeated the message from the supervisor’s office, “The Fire Safe Council is an integral partner in all of this. We’re grateful for the grants, especially the roof grant money.”