During the Mountain Disaster Preparedness community meeting with Caltrans on highway repair, one person asked about how the road closures would possibly affect evacuation if it were needed because of wildfires or other emergencies.
Emergency response agencies, including fire and law enforcement, have been preparing for this possibility almost since February, according to Idyllwild Fire Chief Mark LaMont.
“The plans are solid to get you off the mountain if an emergency needs full-scale evacuation,” he said.
Most importantly, he and others stressed that the Mountain Fire and last year’s Cranston Fire have significantly reduced dangerous and flammable vegetation along highways 74 and 243 to Mountain Center, and east and west of it.
Access to Mountain Center should not be limited and Highway 74 through Garner Valley should not be a problem.
What was emphasized Thursday night and at the Wednesday Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting was that residents should not resort to trying to use the U.S. Forest Service back roads.
While some storm repair has been made, much of the forest road system still needs work and is unsafe for most vehicles. Further, three of the roads — the Control, Bee Canyon and Dark Canyon — are closed, acting Fire Chief Salvador Reyes, for the San Jacinto Ranger District, told the MAST group.
The roads are barely one lane wide and if a private vehicle became stuck, it would be very difficult for emergency vehicles to get to it, while other private vehicles were blocking the road.
“Having to close the highways around the fire’s footprint due to any new fires is not expected this summer,” wrote Zack Behrens, public affairs officer for the San Bernardino National Forest.
“As for the Forest Service roads, we do not recommend them for evacuation purposes,” he continued. “They are mostly single lane, dirt and vehicles with low clearance will have trouble navigating them. We would not want a situation where one vehicle gets stuck or breaks down, trapping everyone behind it.”