In 1979, Chris Fogle was seven years old and moved to Idyllwild with his family. Being fond of the outdoors, Fogle was in paradise and spent his youth backpacking, rock climbing, hiking and engaged in many other outdoor activities that the mountain provides.
Fogle decided to get a summer job with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in July of 1992. It seemed to be a perfect fit.
“I loved being outside in the mountains and wilderness,” Fogle said. “At 19 years old, one of my friends I grew up with had gotten a job with the USFS, so I applied. In July of 1992, I was offered to be a member of Engine 52 at the Kenworthy station located in Garner Valley.”
His summer job turned into a 17-year stint with Engine 52, working his way up through the ranks and building a career.
“I got to combine those things I loved to do along with protecting the community I loved and lived in,” Fogle said. “In 2007, I was offered a battalion chief position and am supervising fire staff, engines, helicopter and hotshot crews.”
Fogle has been working for the USFS for almost 30 years and knows the mountain like the back of his hand.
“When I started doing this, I was just looking for something to do in the summer,” Fogle explained. “It was fun and exciting but not a planned career goal. Then before you know it, you’ve been doing it for a long time and advancement opportunities have come around. It’s been a wonderful career and it’s been quite the honor to be able to help protect the mountain and the communities.”
Within his career, Fogle has noticed the changes in fire activity as the weather has changed and the population increased.
“In the 28 years I’ve been doing this, it went from more occurrences but smaller sized fires to less occurrences but larger sized fires,” Fogle said. “In the last 10 years, the fires seem to be getting larger and moving quicker.”
Everyone wants the same outcome and that is to protect our mountain.
“Thinking back, we’ve had some very large fires that I’ve worked here — the Bee Canyon Fire in 1996, the Esperanza Fire in 2006, the Mountain Fire in 2013 and the Cranston Fire in 2018,” Fogle recalled.
When you’ve lived in a community for 41 years, the emotional investment runs deep. Fogle has been on fires all over the country, and while he takes every fire seriously, there is something different to managing fighting fires in the community he grew up in.
“It’s always different fighting a fire in your own back yard,” explained Fogle. “I’ve been on details in other areas of the country, and while evacuations are never taken lightly, you don’t have that vested personal interest of the land and area. Watching people drive by that you know puts a completely different feel to it. When you spend the amount of time as I have here, you have those connections and you understand what’s at risk more when there is something threatening town.”
However, there is the benefit of knowing the area that makes a huge difference. “The benefits of those fires are that I grew up on this mountain,” Fogle said. “I’ve been on most of these ridges before I started working for the Forest Service. So now, you already know where the best access points are.”
Fogle, who just turned 48 this month, will have the option to stay in the USFS for another nine years. The USFS has a mandatory retirement age of 57 for those who are in a primary fire position.
“It’s been fun and really is a privilege to help protect this mountain,” Fogle said. “My dad protected it for many years as the resident sheriff when I was growing up and it’s been a great career for me working for the Forest Service.”
Fogle also shared a bit of advice for those wanting to join the USFS.
“If you’re interested, become a student of fire and learn everything about it,” said Fogle. “The more you know about it, the easier it is to control it, manipulate it and stop it when you need to. This is a wonderful career for someone who gets bored easily like I do. It keeps you challenged and occupied.”