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How Prepared Are Inland Empire Mountain Communities For More Wildfires?

KNBC Los Angeles

2018 saw massive wildfires across California, from the Camp Fire in Butte County, to the Holy Fire in Riverside County.  With these wildfires becoming the new normal, are San Bernardino mountain communities - particulalry the Rim of the World communities - at risk?  KVCR's Benjamin Purper reports.

In November, President Trump suggested that California start raking its forest floors to prevent wildfires.

Well, here in the San Bernardino National Forest, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Forest Service worker: “This is called a rogue…”

It’s called mechanical treatment, where Forest Service workers reduce the amount of vegetation on the forest floor to give a possible fire less fuel to grow.

Barley: “Every year has the potential to be a significant fire in California.”

That’s Glenn Barley, the Unit Chief for Cal Fire’s San Bernardino unit. Barley says one way to prevent fires is to make sure your property is free of vegetation and debris.

Barley: “Oftentimes it's that wood piles or different trash piles, different things will catch embers and actually catch on fire and carry that fire onto the structure. So all those things need to be cleaned up and kept clean around the home.

Barley says that if you live in the mountain communities, you should be prepared to evacuate when officials tell you to.

Barley: “And unfortunately, oftentimes when that need arises, it happens so quickly people don't really have time to stop and think about what they need to gather and what they need to pull together and get in the car before they leave their home. And so people need to be prepared, know what items they're going to gather, where those items are in their house, and a good way to do that is to have a list of things tagged on the fridge of what's important to grab and know where it's at so they can get it quickly and they can get in the car and leave.”

I asked Barley if he thinks the mountain communities are well-prepared for a large fire.

Barley: “Locally here, I would say we are. The forest is a dynamic environment, it's always growing, so once we complete a project in an area, we have to at some point come back and maintain that project in the next probably five to fifteen year window, depending on what environments it's sitting in. So it's just like painting the Golden Gate bridge, you just get done and you have to turn around and go back to the beginning and start again. So it's an ongoing process that we have to do, and it's important to keep up with that or we will see those large damaging destructive fires that we've seen these last couple years.”

Phillip Mosley is the Deputy Director of Emergency Services for the City of Big Bear. He says the mountain communities have had several big fires over the last few years.

Mosley: “The most recent was June of 2017, we had the Holcomb Fire. It burned on the very east-end of the valley and it kind of came up from the desert side at the east end of Big Bear Valley, Baldwin Lake area.”

Mosley says that because of all those fires, there’s not a lot of natural fuel for fires to grow. That reduce the risk of another large wildfire coming through the area.

Mosley: “So essentially, what I would say at this time, there is not a real high threat of a major wildfire coming into the area. Just because the number of fires that we've had in the last 15 years that have pretty much gone through with a national fuel modification, if you will, over that 15 year period, to the northeast and west of us.”

Mosley says that even if a fire were to come through, Big Bear is pretty well-prepared.

Mosley: “We're currently in the 2016 California building code. And a major part of that building code is that we're in a high-fire hazard zone classification, and so we have significant fire resistant construction requirements in all new construction. Which relates to basically fire-resistant siting, dual-pane windows, class A roof coverings.”

There’s also a text alert system in case of a large fire that lets residents know when to evacuate. They also have plans for the elderly and disabled in case of a large fire.

Mosley: “The Sheriff also has a list of housebound individuals and elderly that they would potentially need to assist in evacuating. So they update that, they request the hospital and local healthcare facilities to keep them up to date on those types of infirmed and elderly individuals.”

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