Since summer 2002, Council volunteers have worked thousands of hours in a variety of activities aimed at making the communities of Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Pinyon more fire safe. The major impetus of their work came near the end of a four-year drought which created conditions for a major bark beetle infestation which has caused unprecedented tree mortality in the San Bernardino National Forest. Not only has there been a huge glut of timber from removal of the dead trees from both the forest and private property, but the existence of the dead trees in such unparalleled numbers has brought about a risk of fire that is historic in size. Council members worked more than 450 man-hours to produce 45 cords of firewood this last winter which were donated to the Idyllwild HELP Center for use by needy families on the Hill. These efforts not only helped many low-income families get firewood to heat their homes during a long and cold winter, they also meant that the U.S. Forest Service had a lot less timber it had to be responsible for disposing of by burning or other means.
A major Forest Service project now underway which is designed to protect the northwestern perimeter of the Idyllwild/Pine Cove area is the Pine Cove Fuel Break. Started by Forest Service staff, this shaded fuel break has been substantially contributed to by crews of Council members averaging 10 to 15 men and women in size. Their work has included removing manzanita trees and brush and doing other clearance work in the Gibbs Gully area.
Working two days a week from March – June 2003, Council members provided well over 1,000 man-hours of work on the project. It is believed their efforts will be a considerable contribution toward the Forest Service plan to try and complete the entire fuel break in about a year’s time, an important goal considering the current fire risk on the Hill. The work done by Council members is considered especially significant since the Gibbs Gully area is a natural chimney leading into the community from the forest. Providing an adequate fuel break there will give fire agencies a prime opportunity to stop a wildfire from wiping out first, Pine Cove, and then, Idyllwild.
In both the log-splitting and Pine Cove Fuel Break projects, Council members have contributed much more than just hundreds of hours of labor. They also have donated equipment and services worth thousands of dollars. This includes the use of a professional log splitter, chain saws, trucks and trailers, an all-terrain vehicle, a tractor and the cost of repairing and maintaining all of this equipment. Also, there has been a sizable administrative component involved in calling, supervising and organizing the volunteer crews, as well as keeping track of the hours they have worked.
It is expected this project will be completed in Spring 2004 with the clearing of the remaining slash and the final step of planting some new trees to replace the vast number lost in this effort to create a shaded fuel break.