Jerry Hagen, former emergency services coordinator for the Riverside County 3rd District, retired from the Department of Emergency Management Monday. Photo by Steven King

With no major fires in Southern California, Hill fire agencies were able to hold the quarterly Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting last week.
Work on fuel breaks, including burns, were the major topics and some personnel changes will occur in the U.S. Forest Service’s San Jacinto Ranger District early in 2019 as well as Rivereside County’s emergency services coordinator for the 3rd Supervisor District.
The Forest Service will continue to burn piles of slash near the local fire stations. Last week, burning occurred near the Vista Grande and Kenworthy stations.
On Monday, the Forest Service began work on the Pine Cove and other fuel breaks surrounding Idyllwild, according to district Fire Manager Fred Espinoza. These will involve broadcast burns and be very dependent on weather conditions, such as little to no wind and lower temperatures.
Later in the winter, Espinoza said the agency intends to do more burns on Thomas Mountain in Garner Valley. This project started last spring. He warned that it may be visible along Highway 74 and perhaps at higher elevations to the north.
When the burn has a definite date, the Forest Service will alert the community, he added.
In response to a question, he emphasized that this burn is not equivalent to a clear cutting of the area. While the burn is described as about 1,000 acres, not all will be touched. Rather, the plan is to create a mosaic effect in the forest area. This will not prevent wildfires, but will slow their spread, enabling firefighters and air attack to control them.
Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Department will be working on the Red Hill and Pine Cove fuel breaks. Forester Division Chief Gregg Bratcher added that work on the Upper Dry Creek Fuel Break is expected to start very soon. Also, the county will be conducting thinning work on the demonstration site on Franklin Drive this winter.
Capt. Mic Sebastian added that RCFD will be cooperating with the California State Parks fire group to conduct burns in the Stone Creek and Alhatti neighborhoods.
Charles Wentz, forester on the San Jacinto Ranger District, emphasized that the prescribed burns are intended to restore a healthy forest, not degrade it. Wildfires, albeit smaller, were very common through the Southern California forests in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“This will help restore the natural ecosystem and try to reduce the population of invasive species,” he stated.
The first personnel change that will affect MAST is the retirement of Jerry Hagen, the county emergency services coordinator for the Hill and all of the 3rd District. Dec. 17 was his last day with Riverside County.
Probably in January, the Forest Service will say goodbye to Espinoza. He has accepted a position with the Bureau of Land Management, and will be part of the California Desert Inter-Agency Fire Program.He also announced that the Forest Service has selected Julie Hall to replace Arturo Delgardo as the San Jacinto district ranger. She will begin her new assignment the first week of January.
Several members of the public attended and raised salient questions about abatement, evacuation and potential shelter-in-place sites in the community.
Local real estate agent Marge Muir expressed some concern about how to ensure abatement and inspections when local homes sell. For the real estate transactions in Idyllwild, the agents go directly to the Idyllwild Fire Department for a compliance inspection. But outside the district, obtaining that inspection has been inconsistent, she said.
Bratcher understood and promised to raise it with Division Chief Bill Weiser and Battalion Chief Robert Fish.
In response to whether there is an evacuation plan, each of the agency chiefs assured the public that the plans exist, have been prepared years ago and are revised. Unfortunately, there are limited highways to and from the Hill. But evacuations would direct residents away from danger and fire, they were assured.
“There was no congestion on the highways for either the Mountain or Cranston fires,” Hagen said. “CHP has the capability of pushing stalled cars off the highway to permit traffic to continue. We have contingencies for clearing the traffic.”
Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz explained that public education was important, and that Southern California Edison and Cal Trans were removing and thinning vegetation from along the highway routes to reduce the chance of falling trees blocking the roads.
While there are plans for shelter-in-place in case the local camps could not evacuate quickly, the fire officials stressed that in a large fire, there is really no site safe enough for shelter-in-place. Civilians need to evacuate so that firefighters can try to stop the conflagration.
Remaining on the Hill creates the possibility that resources will be diverted to rescue people who stay, they said.

He has accepted a position with the Bureau of Land Management, and will be part of the California Desert Inter-Agency Fire Program.He also announced that the Forest Service has selected Julie Hall to replace Arturo Delgardo as the San Jacinto district ranger. She will begin her new assignment the first week of January.
Several members of the public attended and raised salient questions about abatement, evacuation and potential shelter-in-place sites in the community.
Local real estate agent Marge Muir expressed some concern about how to ensure abatement and inspections when local homes sell. For the real estate transactions in Idyllwild, the agents go directly to the Idyllwild Fire Department for a compliance inspection. But outside the district, obtaining that inspection has been inconsistent, she said.
Bratcher understood and promised to raise it with Division Chief Bill Weiser and Battalion Chief Robert Fish.
In response to whether there is an evacuation plan, each of the agency chiefs assured the public that the plans exist, have been prepared years ago and are revised. Unfortunately, there are limited highways to and from the Hill. But evacuations would direct residents away from danger and fire, they were assured.
“There was no congestion on the highways for either the Mountain or Cranston fires,” Hagen said. “CHP has the capability of pushing stalled cars off the highway to permit traffic to continue. We have contingencies for clearing the traffic.”
Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz explained that public education was important, and that Southern California Edison and Cal Trans were removing and thinning vegetation from along the highway routes to reduce the chance of falling trees blocking the roads.
While there are plans for shelter-in-place in case the local camps could not evacuate quickly, the fire officials stressed that in a large fire, there is really no site safe enough for shelter-in-place. Civilians need to evacuate so that firefighters can try to stop the conflagration.
Remaining on the Hill creates the possibility that resources will be diverted to rescue people who stay, they said.

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