The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) formed the California Fire Safe Council with the intent of seeing that local fire safe councils were formed with the single charge of educating the local public about fire abatement practices that can save their homes in the event of a fire.
The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council (MCFSC) was formed in 2001 and became a 501(c)(3) corporation in 2002. We quickly saw that while the single CDF charge was certainly necessary, it did not go far enough. The communities of the San Jacinto Mountains are mostly surrounded by National Forest — a forest that has been under-managed for more than a hundred years. While that under-management was based on a misunderstanding of the role fire plays in nature and in the maintenance of habitat, it nonetheless created havoc within both the agencies deemed responsible for the forest and its wild inhabitants.
Many people who now live in the San Jacinto Ranger District came here as flatlanders thinking that all these trees were really neat. They slowly came to understand they had chosen to live in a keg of dynamite. The 40 trees per acre (33 feet apart on average) forest no longer exists in North America with rare exceptions in Mexico; here we had 2,000-3,000 trees per acre. It was with this shared knowledge that the MCFSC took a new direction.
MCFSC began to push for thinning of the forest including within the community. A group of volunteers called “The Woodies” was assembled, founded by dedicated people who often provided the use of their own chain-saws, trailers, log-splitters and tractors. The Woodies began to remove trees on private property for individuals, donating the resultant firewood to a local agency for those less fortunate. By the end of 2009, the Woodies had received grants to purchase their own equipment and continue to do abatement on properties where the owner cannot afford the 1/4 to 1/3 cost share of hiring an MCFSC contractor. The Woodies have contributed more than 500 cords of firewood to the Idyllwild Help Center and volunteered more than 16,000 hours. In 2008, a new, similar, affiliated group, calling themselves the “Tumbleweeders” formed in the Anza Chapter.
When the massive die-off of both conifers and manzanita began, MCFSC started talking seriously with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) about thinning our beloved forest. As a result of that effort, MCFSC formed a partnership contract with the Forest Service, taking on a major role in the creation of what is now known as the Pine Cove Fuel Break, working two days a week at thinning (mostly) dead trees and brush to create a park-like area from 300-500 feet wide around the perimeter of the community of Pine Cove, one of the areas most sensitive to a fire coming up a canyon. Since that original effort, the Forest Service has continued to create fuel breaks around the Idyllwild/Pine Cove communities.
Early in 2003, MCFSC received its first USFS funded grant to hire contractors to work on a cost sharing basis with the property owners. In 2004 they hired a field supervisor to meet with property owners, make a work plan, get bids from contractors, verify that the contractors complete the work according to the plan, document the work photographically, and authorize payment to the contractors. A typical grant covers between 2/3 and 3/4 of the cost of the abatement.
In 2009, MCFSC received a FEMA grant to replace 100 shake and wood shingle roofs with fire resistant roofing material. They successfully completed the grant in 2016.
As the abatement program evolved so did educational outreach activities. MCFSC has developed a well-received program used in the local school; the newsletter goes to the approximately 8,000 property owners in our database; and from time to time, public meetings are held with programs on fire safety. The one-on-one interaction between our project managers and property owners proves to be the most effective educational activity.
The secret to success thus far is the willingness and eagerness with which people dig into the resolution of problems within the community. Every year, MCFSC’s 20+ member volunteer crew (The Woodies) donates thousands of hours doing fuels reduction work on properties of disabled, elderly and low-income individuals, plus they process trees removed from the abatement jobs into firewood for distribution to the needy by the Idyllwild Help Center. The value of their time plus the value of the wood is used as a match for grants.
Below are the statistics for the work completed by Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council, June 2002 through current–