Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz addresses the Idyllwild Indivisibles’ August meeting at the Idyllwild Library last Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Photo by Peter Szabadi

Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz stopped by the Town Crier late afternoon on Tuesday, Aug. 7, to deliver a personal letter to the editor, Becky Clark, regarding action he’s taken over her concerns for tariff costs levied on newsprint, and an interview to outline current issues beginning to surface post-Cranston Fire.

“Today’s purpose was to help agencies understand and facilitate access to available funding for mitigation and prevention of future fires, and the necessary application processes required to rebuild and protect properties,” said Ruiz.

The congressman’s first order of business was a meeting with the Mountain Community Fire Safe Council to collectively discuss its involvement during the Cranston Fire and discuss legislative ideas.

Ruiz then met with local county, state and federal reps to discuss funds necessary for prevention. This meeting was followed by a visit to the site of the future Idyllwild Community Center. He then stopped by to say hello to the first responders and law enforcement at the National Night Out and wrapped up the day by speaking to a meeting of Idyllwild Indivisible on a broad range of topics, including fire management.

“In particular, I have special interest in the new hazard-mitigation funds I sponsored and passed into law in 2018. This bill adds an additional $425,000 through FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant to CAL OES. This grant resulted from problem solving after the Mountain Fire. I want to make sure the communities who were instrumental in identifying issues such as the absence of post-fire mitigation funds will directly benefit from this bill,” said Ruiz.

“Fire prevention has been calculated based on historic data. We need more money because fire prevention needs have changed due to global warming. One resolution would be to amend this bill to account for the new trends presenting in fire management based on the considerable expertise available. Some of the other issues we address are the abatement challenges faced by land owners whose land backs up against federal land and the sharing of those costs.

“We have the law and now we’re working to ensure the implementation is effective. Then we’ll gather lessons learned from the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, Riverside County Fire, Cal Trans, Idyllwild Fire, Anza Electric Co-op, Ramona Band, Santa Rosa and Cahuilla tribes, CAL OES representatives, [Supervisor] Chuck Washington and EMDl. We’ll also be following up by advocating for these agencies in a much sooner rate,” Ruiz advised.

“Some of the issues we identified are the reimbursements entitled to Idyllwild Fire and the sheriff’s office; they depend on those reimbursements for operations.” He also stated, “Some of the funding for U.S. Forest Service doesn’t parallel or align with current trends due to drought, and frequent intense fires in areas where we witness these fire patterns emerging in real time.

“Historically, forest density averaged 48 trees per acre. Today the average is 2,000 to 3,000 trees per acre. Instead of heeding the wisdom of native tribes who were teaching burn techniques to reduce tree density and undergrowth, early pioneers who were deathly afraid of fire due to historically devastating European fires, rejected this wisdom. Fortunately, while forest management policies and abatement policies are re-evaluated, we rely heavily on air operations support and 747 super tankers that drop 3 miles of retardant.

“One of the principal lessons we learned from the Cranston Fire is this: We have the best unified command system in California,” he said. “One of the things I also picked up from our meetings is post-fire coordinating aspects regarding reimbursements and consistent fire-prevention activities are calling for ongoing project management. County EMD has a role and the U.S. Forest Service also has a role — but my role is to ensure funding travels to the granular level to ensure the community also benefits.”

Ruiz continued, “Economic hardships exist when employees can’t get to work; their capacity to care for their lives is constrained and they need help. I suggested in the Anza meeting that employees, provided with proof of employment, be permitted to enter Idyllwild to work through closed roads. This plan was swiftly put into place because post-fire management agencies are listening.”

When asked about the hardship incurred by small businesses during the fire, he replied, “The mechanism would be to petition the SBA for funding based on detailed analysis of loss and application of special assistance grants.”

In closing, Ruiz added, “I use advocacy to support my constituents so the high-level works are measurable against community-level deliverables. Understand, I’m always listening and taking action on your behalf.”