Agencies fully staffed and ready for incidents

Fire season has begun and local firefighters are already pulling hoses and cutting brush to protect the Hill from a rash of fires. Consequently, the June Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting, which usually has a large attendance to coordinate the approaching fire season, had a less-than-normal attendance last week.

Both the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire representatives said their agencies were fully staffed for the 2018 fire season.

Forest Service Battalion Chief Chris Fogle reported that all of the seasonal firefighters have been hired. Seven engines, hot shot crews and the helicopter at Keenwild are all staffed. “We have no vacant positions,” he shared.

Cal Fire Division Chief Bill Weiser confirmed his agency’s readiness, too.

When asked about campfires in the national forest, Battalion Chief Matt Ahearn replied that fires in or near campgrounds were restricted to the yellow-post areas. However, he expected that forest fire restrictions would be announced soon, limiting the areas for campfires even further.

USFS Fire Management Officer Fred Espinosa noted that the fuel moisture readings near Keenwild had dropped nearly 30 percent in the last four weeks, from 95.1 percent in early May to 64.5 percent recently.

The county’s Emergency Management Department Coordinator Jerry Hagen said he would be visiting the local camps in the next few weeks to ensure they have evacuation plans in case of a major fire on the Hill.

Cal Fire is continuing to do some fuel reduction on and adjacent to the Ernie Maxwell Trail, according to Gregg Bratcher, forest unit chief for Cal Fire on the Hill.

In other business, Bratcher continued to express concerns about the presence of the Gold-spotted oak borer on the Hill. He noted that at this time of year, oak trees with small leaves or an unusual number of dead leaves were likely harboring the GSOB.

He advised anyone observing an oak in poor condition to call the hotline at 951-659-8328.

Unfortunately, the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council does not currently have any grant funds to assist with removing oaks suffering from GSOB attack, said Executive Director Edwina Scott.

Also, the volunteer inspection crews are at a minimum level. She is seeking more volunteers. If anyone is interested in helping with GSOB inspections, call the MCFSC at 951-659-6208, she asked.

Ken Kietzer, senior environmental scientist in the Inland Empire District for California State Parks, reported, “State Parks did preventive actions in the campgrounds last month. We found no evidence yet of the GSOB.”

Hagen also mentioned that his committee, composed of Bill Tell from Mile High Radio Club and Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, had developed a project plan for expanding the communication and broadcast capability from Poppet Flats south to Pinyon. This has been submitted to the County Executive Office for possible funding in 2018-19.

Weiser then recommended the MAST commanders endorse the proposal.