Fuelbreak work continues on Hill

The Mountain Area Safety Taskforce met last week, but inclement weather kept the attendance at the low end of a usual meeting.

The main issue of discussion is the effort to extend the signal from the local emergency broadcast station, WNKI 1610 AM, from Poppet Flat in the north to Pinyon Pines in the south.

Chairing this effort is Jerry Hagen of Riverside County’s Emergency Management Department. After several meetings, he reported that two decisions have been made.

First, the group has decided there are several reasons to keep the AM signal rather than switching to an FM signal and station. One is the added expense, and the limited number and infrequent awarding of new FM licenses.

Secondly, an FM license would bring requirements for specific programming and broadcasting conditions. This seemed more responsibility than the Mile High Radio Club or the Idyllwild Fire Protection District would want to undertake, he said.

Consequently, the committee is seeking the approval of the Federal Communications Commission to extend its antenna and boost the power to its broadcast signal. This would create a ribbon network for WNKI and clearly extend the signal, he said. “Now we’re exploring the cost of equipment,” Hagen added.

When the final cost estimates are collected and evaluated, the committee will forward its recommendations to the county’s Executive Office and then to the Board of Supervisors.

Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz confirmed the support coming from the Executive Office and 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington. He also encouraged the local government agencies and nonprofit groups to submit public-service announcements.

“We can’t say how many people listen to WNKI, but the more it is utilized, the better it will be,” he said. “Give us announcements and we’ll get them on the air.

Edwina Scott, executive director of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, reported that she was finishing the final paper work for several grants. Unfortunately, new grant money has become quite scarce in the past several years.

But she is optimistic that the state will have funds for grants from the Fire Prevention Fee revenue.

Cal Fire’s Mountain Forester Division Chief Gregg Bratcher reminded the group that the gold-spotted oak borer threat has not been eliminated. The insect still has infested many trees on the Hill.

One new problem is that several tree cutters have taken down infested oaks and simply left the wood on the property. Bratcher said he will put more emphasis on meeting with contractors to inform them that these trees still harbor the insect and they will spread.

Reitz also shared that IFPD and the Riverside County Waste Resources Department are collaborating on establishing a day and place for local residents to bring old tires.

He is hoping to schedule it after the first abatement inspections are completed in May.

“Tires are an issue because the transfer station doesn’t take them,” Reitz said. “We find them in the woods and along the highway.”

Each of the local fire agencies reported on the fuel reduction projects that had been completed this winter or were going to start soon. U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Chris Fogle discussed the Pine Cove work and the new work along the Westridge Fuelbreak. He also added that the Forest Service is hoping to burn more acreage on Thomas Mountain before summer.