Monday, August 31, 2009

Cottonwood Fire Day 5

GOOOOOOOOD MOORRNNNNNNNNNING IDYLLWILD & all you commuters waiting to retest Highway 74 and rubber neck the burn areas.

The sunrise was more beautiful this morning. The sky is clear, no clouds and no smoke and plenty of traffic.

The Cottonwood Fire is 95 percent contained with little activity last night. Its size remains at 2,409 acres.

To reinforce the view that this fire still a potential danger, the Forest Service is already thinking about all the other SoCal fires, especially the Station Fire where tragedy occurred yesterday and the one in Oak Glen

But just as you thought it was safe to drive the local roads, Cal Trans has begun its work on St. Route 243 (see photo above) south of Idyllwild. From lower Saunders Meadow Road past the turnout toward the entrance to town
Drive safely.

As the local deputy ranger told the Integrated Management Team this morning, “The locals like to drive 50 miles per hour and hug your bumper. They drive fast and low.”
So be careful and cautious. Fire vehicles will still be on Hwy 74.

Most of today’s work will be mop up and clearing along those highway and control roads.
Incident Commander Mike Wakoski described the team’s work. The Task was to put the fire out, the purpose was to protect lives and property and the End Stake was fire suppression and it is occurring.

Team members were told the last camp meal will be Tuesday’s breakfast, but worse, the last shower will be 11 p.m. tonight!
No aircraft and a few helicopters, which will mostly shuttle crews to the canyons for some ground work. Patrol the area will be an important task today.

Tomorrow, Fred Espinoza will assume t he Incident Commander post for the final stages of the Cottonwood Fire.

Thanks to all firefighters and Sheriff’s and Highway Patrol and Cal Trans and OES staff who fought stop and suppressed this Fire.
Many have said the Cottonwood Fire could have been worse. Idyllwild was fortunate again.

The cost of suppressing and stopping the Cottonwood Fire has reached $1.5 million already.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cottonwood Fire Day 4

Base Camp this morning.

A car driving west on Highway 74 and no road block, about 6:45 a..m. Sunday, Aug. 30.

10:30 p.m.
The Cottonwood Fire is now 95% contained.

Fire behavior is described as "smoldering in heavy fuels in steep and rocky terrain, coupled with high temperatures and low humidity. The fire is burning in 13-year-old chaparral with a significant dead component. Tomorrow the predicted temperatures are to be slightly lower and relative humidity higher

8 a.m.
GOOOOOOOOD MOORRNNNNNNNNNING IDYLLWILD and the rest of the world below our alpine hamlet.

The sunrise was beautiful this morning. The sky is clear with no clouds and no smoke. We do have plenty of cattle.

HIGHWAY 74 is OPEN. In case you have doubts, see the photo.

The Cottonwood Fire has been limited to 2,409 acres burned and SoCal Team III has achieved 75 percent containment. Full containment is expected tomorrow, Aug. 31, according to Public Information Officer Marc Peebles. He is with the integrated management team assigned to the Cottonwood Fire.

An important thing to remember: Containment means how much line is around the fire; controlled means how much of the fire is actually out.

However, that statement is quickly changing. Team III is already planning a significant demobilization beginning today. The unified command with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is ending today.

Drivers, as you use Highway 74 to Hemet, please be cautious of fire vehicles. The Cottonwood Fire is not controlled. Some of Team III's biggest concern is the area along the San Jacinto River bottom and preventing the fire from jumping the highway and heading south.

Today’s work will concentrate on mopping up areas and, more importantly, holding the fire lines to prevent any expansion of the fire.

The Station Fire in Los Angeles County is more than 20,000 acres, but according to Incident Meteorologist Rob Balfour, similar weather conditions were experienced here as on the Station Fire.

The initial attack on the Cottonwood did a lot to help prevent further spread.

But the competition for firefighting resources in Southern California is intensifying. Yesterday, Incident Commander Mike Wakoski had four fixed wing aircraft supporting his ground troops. Today, he has no fixed winged and only two helicopters.

Firefighters from Colorado, New Mexico and even Virginia have been shipped to Southern California to help with firefighting. As Waskoski said this morning,
Southern California is in a fire siege now and fire season has begun.

Temperatures will be lower today, according to Balfour. Instead of 110º, firefighters will enjoy a balmy 102º in the lower areas and only 92º at higher elevations. But up canyon, winds could reach 20 to 25 mph.

The cost of suppressing and stopping the Cottonwood Fire has reached $1.5 million already.

Yesterday’s flare-up, which delayed the Highway 74 opening, was a 15-acre island of vegetation burning. This was very old vegetation.

“This is steep terrain and it takes a while for hand crews to do the work to establish the fire lines,” said Peebles.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

We interrupt this program …

So, for a momentary commercial break from Cottonwood — plus I don't want to confuse the fire information with other information — you should, I emphasize "should," go to JP's Blog.

I'd offer a beer, but the tap broke.

Anyway, the first photos from today's Jazz in the Pines are posted there. See what people were doing.

Tomorrow, I'll tell you why people came despite the fire.

Also, I'd like to share someone else's thoughts about the fire and Saturday morning.

Just go to the "dark" side, look to your right and click on "JP's Blog." Go ahead. It will be a safe and wholesome experience. Of course, to my friends of the "L" persuasion — "liberal" — it all depends on the definition of "be" and "and."

Cottonwood Fire Day 3

10:23 p.m.
The U.S. Forest Service is reporting five heat-related injuries on the Cottonwood Fire. Highway 74 is still expected to open at about 8 a.m. Sunday.

Here's some good news.
Humidity is now 15 to 25%, temperatures are between 68 and 78 degrees, and the wind is now blowing northwest at 3 to 8 mph with gusts of up to 15 mph.

Resources, besides nearly 700 personnel, now include 34 engines, 20 hand crews, three water tenders, two dozers, four helicopters and two airtankers. 698 personnel.

7:30 p.m.
Highway 74's opening from Borco Road in Valle Vista to Mountain Center has been delayed again until about 8 a.m. Sunday due to another flare-up along the highway, and mop-up crews will be working the area through the night.

The Cottonwood Fire is about 30% contained with full containment expected by 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31. The fire has burned nearly 3,000 acres and is still 4 miles from Hemet. Fire behavior is being described as, "
Smoldering with isolated individual bushes torching."

Winds are now blowing in a northeasterly direction at 9 mph with gusts of up to 19 mph. However, the growth potential for this fire has been reduced from high to medium.

Nearly 700 personnel are now assigned to this fire. In addition, resources include
39 engines, 20 hand crews, nine water tenders, two dozers, four helicopters, two airtankers and one Martin Mars Airtanker (7,200-gallon capacity).

The fire's cause has been determined to be power-pole related.

11:56 a.m.

The Cottonwood Fire Incident Command Team will open Highway 74 between Mountain Center and Hemet at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29. That portion of the highway has been closed since Thursday evening when the fire broke out.

The U.S. Forest Service wants you to travel cautiously and carefully from Mountain Center to Hemet.

"Watch your speed closely," they said, but I'm adding "watch the road ahead," too. The reason:
Fire trucks will be crossing Highway 74 and may be working on the roadway.

The Forest Service was very nice to all of us opening Highway 74 24 to 48 hours earlier than initial projections, so please don't be a spoiled sport and ruin it for them. They're doing a great job.

The jazz fest was great, but be careful. With the current deficit we can't afford new fire equipment.

6 a.m.
GOOOOOOOOD MOORRNNNNNNNNNING IDYLLWILD and all of you flatlanders thinking about coming to the mountains to hear some truly great jazz.

The sunrise was beautiful this morning. The sky is clear with few clouds and no smoke.

The Cottonwood Fire is still roughly 2,200 acres burned and 10 percent contained, but those are conservative estimates, according to Public Information Officer Marc Peebles. He is with the Integrated management team assigned to destroy, eliminate and whack the Cottonwood Fire.

There was very little activity last night; the fire didn’t spread. But lots of work remains before the “c” word — “controlled” — will modify the Cottonwood Fire.

Crews worked last night, but the actual number of firefighters was lighter than Thursday. Those guys deserved sleep after more than 24 hours battling the fire in heat and ridges. They were up all Thursday night stopping the fire at the North Fork of the San Jacinto River.

Just as important, Peebles noted that it is extremely dangerous work in the steep and rugged terrain running through the lower canyons.

Today, more people and firefighters are arriving. Total personnel on the Hill attacking this fire will be greater than 500 people: 13 crews including Hot Shots, four helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft, the Martian MARS (all 7,200 gallons of capacity), 37 engines, dozers and water tenders.

Temperatures will be about the same today — in the 90s at the higher elevations and greater than 100º along the river basin and in the canyon bottoms.

The IC leadership is clearly worried about dehydration on the fire lines. The other concern today is the wind speed will pick up 5 to 10 miles per hour. As several officials said, “This fire has not been wind-tested yet.”

Today, the team will be mopping up along the North Fork and making sure the fire doesn’t breach its eastern boundary. The heavy work will be on the west and north. Establishing strong fire lines will be a major priority during the sunlight hours. (Let’s hope some jazz sounds waft down through the canyons to them.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Community meeting 2 views: Marshall Smith's

On Friday night, the Forest Service organized and conducted a meeting to discuss the Cottonwood Fire. The meeting started at 6 p.m. at Idyllwild School. Both Marshall Smith and myself attended. Below is his rendition of the session. In the blog below this one is my version.

Friday at 11:45 p.m.

Between 300 and 400 people turned out to hear representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, CalFire, Riverside County Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Sheriff’s Department and Idyllwild Fire Protection District discuss current fire strategies and contingency plans.

Salient points included that although the fire has expanded to 2,200 acres, winds are blowing downslope and in a westerly direction, at a moderate rate of 10 mph, expected to increase to 12 mph tonight (Idyllwild is northeast of the present fire location); the fire is low-burning, moving through dry brush with the greatest expansion of the fire on its westerly edge; weather conditions are not expected to change dramatically over the next couple of days. If anything, temperatures will cool slightly in the next three to four days; fire containment is at 10 percent, up from 5 percent earlier this afternoon; and initial Forest Service firefighters, before being joined by CalFire, were able last night to keep the fire from crossing a critical point at the North Fork of the San Jacinto. Incident commander Mike Wakoski said, “The fire has not really moved much today. Things are looking real good on this fire.”

Riverside County Sheriff Lt. Henry Sawicki reassured attendees that the department, which is responsible for evacuation and notifying residents when to evacuate and the route to take, have 50 deputies standing by and more at the ready should the need arise. Contingency plans, once the fire passes an evacuation “trigger point” set at Fisherman’s Point, should allow deputies six to eight hours to deploy to the Hill, set up evacuation routes and begin evacuating residents.

If the fire behaves in the future as it has today, Sawicki and fire officials do not believe evacuation will be necessary. Of course, all were cautious to state that changes in weather, wind and fire behavior could change all that.

OES Deputy Director Peter Lent, in response to a question from an audience member, said all evacuees are asked to check in at designated shelters, even though they may move on to private homes of friends or relatives or other private accommodations. In response to another question, Lent explained that the county Early Warning Notification System (EWNS) will, at the time the Fisherman’s Point trigger point is crossed, begin sending out calls to all Hill land lines and registered cell phones that evacuation is being ordered. Cell phones, unless already registered, will not be able to be registered in time for this incident. It takes 30 days, once they are entered online, for registration to be in the system.

CalFire/Riverside County Unit Chief John Hawkins, in a rousing affirmation of official determination and organization, said, “Collaboration among all official agencies ensures that anytime any major emergency happens, there will be a unified command, and there will be no Katrina-like screw up of that command.”

Ron Roberts, staff for Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone, gave a message from the supervisor. “Please tell the people of the mountain we are committed to their public safety and that we will get you out early and safely [if that becomes necessary].”

Forest Service’s Greg Castleberry reminded attendees of the huge amount of clearance that has been done on Idyllwild’s western flank during the last four years. “If that fire goes through those areas that have been cleared, we will now have more options [because of those mosaic-patterned clearances].”

IFPD Chief Steve Kunkle explained “pre-trigger” points he had put in place that should the fire cross them, he would cancel the jazz festival. At this point, neither Kunkle nor other fire officials see that eventuality, but should it happen, the “pre-trigger” point affords officials adequate time to plan how to deal with the glut of festival patrons.

In answer to an audience question, Incident Command Team Public Information Officer Marc Peebles said even though there are many other Southern California fires, resources are prioritized based upon threats to community, power lines and grids, and water sheds. “There is a constant and fluid movement of resources based on exigent priorities.” His point was that adequate resources would be available to fight the Cottonwood Fire.

Community meeting 2 views: JP Crumrine's

On Friday night, the U.S. Forest Service organized and conducted a meeting to discuss the Cottonwood Fire. The meeting started at 6 p.m. at Idyllwild School. Both Marshall Smith and myself attended. Below is my rendition of the session. In the blog above is Marshall's version.

Friday at 11:45 p.m.

The Cottonwood Fire was reported about 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. At the time, the temperature was 104º and relative humidity was 4 percent.

“Conditions very conducive for a fire,” said Dave Fiorella, San Jacinto Ranger District fire chief. But overnight and throughout the day, with temperatures again in the three-digit level, Forest Service firefighters — joined with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters — jolted this fire.

“The firefighters were excellent firefighters last night,” Fiorella told a crowd of Hill residents exceeding 350 people Friday night. “We wanted to hold the fire to the west side of the North Fork. It finally stalled on the bench near Regina Springs. It was our priority to keep the fire from crossing the North Fork. You’re safe because we accomplished that.”

Fiorella and the rest of the firefighters who arrived in the scene just west of Cranston Guard Station have had three hours os sleep. Yet they withstood temperatures well above 100º in fire protection clothing to protect our community, residents, neighbors and homes.

Friday, the Southern California Integrated Management Team II took command of the Cottonwood Fire. New IC Mike Wakoski said the fire had not moved much Friday. It was pretty stable.

With night approaching, firefighters were hoping they might begin to improve their containment of the fire.

All of this was discussed in the community meeting at Idyllwild School Friday night, starting at 6 p.m. The meeting was only scheduled Friday morning, but hundreds of people — Hill residents — learned of it and took time from dinner, the movies, the weekend, sleep or dates to come and learn more about the Cottonwood Fire.

One important fact was that the fire's start may be related to a power pole, but that is still being investigated, according to John Miller, Forest Service public information officer. Forest Service and CalFire investigators were studying a site adjacent to Highway 74 about three-quarter miles west of the Cranston bridge earlier Friday.

The firefighting managers all expressed guarded optimism that the Cottonwood Fire would succumb to their strategies within several days if the weather cooperates.

In the event the fire escapes and moves east on Idyllwild, the incident team is developing evacuation plans and procedures. Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Henry Sawicki told the people that he had a contingent of more than 50 deputies available to initiate an evacuation. A radio announcement would be available, calls on the county’s Early Warning Notifcation system would be made, sheriff’s deputies would drive through neighborhoods shouting instructions on loud speakers and door-to-door notification would all be used to ensure the populace was alert and averted harm.

Peter Lent of the Riverside County Office of Emergency Services assured everyone that home phones would be called automatically, including unlisted numbers. Cell phones must be registered on the county site. (See an earlier post on this blog site.) This process will need about 30 days for the number to be included in the call list, according to Lent.

Besides the notification systems and the fire’s proximity, many people had questions about the jazz festival. Idyllwild Fire Chief Steve Kunkle explained his thought process and how the fire’s behavior and movement would cause him to pull the permit, thus canceling or closing the event.

But as of Friday night, the festival gates will open at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Before leaving, Wakoski and Fiorella admitted that the other Southern California fires provided competition for firefighting and air attack resources to aid in stopping the Cottonwood Fire’s growth and movement.

Nevertheless, Thursday night was successful and Wakoski indicated that he had received notice that 11 or 12 Hot Shot teams would be arriving overnight and Saturday to aid the tired but gallant initial firefighters.

More forest fire restrictions

Due to fire activity, and to protect public health and safety, effective immediately, San Jacinto Ranger District officials are implementing more fire restrictions — preventing wood and charcoal fires across the entire district, including developed sites.

Also, three forest access roads will be closed in the northwest portion of the district: the San Jacinto Truck Trail (5S07), the Control Road (5S06), and the Indian Mountain Truck Trail (4S21). The road closures prohibit public entry and will last until the current fire conditions subside.

For more information about the closure or fires currently burning on the San Bernardino National Forest, contact the Fire Information Center at (909) 383-5688.

More Cottonwood Fire photos

Photos by Jenny Kirchner

Register your cell phone for reverse 911

Go here and click on "register."

Go to JP's Blog to get more Forest Service information on road closures (not highway, but unpaved, dusty, forest roads and more fire restrictions.)

Cottonwood Fire photos

Photos by J.P. Crumrine

The fourth photo shows the origin of the fire, whose cause is under investigation.

St. Park reservations

The Mt. San Jacinto St. Park has decided to call campers with weekend reservations offeriing a full rebate, according to Superintendent Garret Aitchison.

"With limited staff, I'm worried about an emergency evacuation," he said. And he acknowledged this was strictly a state park decision.

In contrast, John Miller, the information source for the incident command structure assigned to the Cottonwood Fire, said," We have left all the campgrounds and picnic areas open. The last thing we want is put a nail in the coffin of the town."

Miller and other fire officials are more than confident that the Hill can be alerted to an imminent danger well before the emergency is on our doorstep.

While the rumor yesterday was that the Idyllwild Arts campus was evacuated, Idyllwild Fire Chief Steve Kunkle acknowledges he asked employees to keep in contact with their staff because they are dispersed around the campus. He did not call for an evacuation, but only suggested it might be temporarily safer in town.

This is JP's vow: If an evacuation is ordered, it will be posted on this site within minutes of learning about the decision. I will post if from my desk at the Town Crier. I will not be in San Diego, Palm Desert or on the beach.

We are here together. Being vigilant does not mean panic. Please come to the town meeting.

Jazz Fest is a GO! IFPD says not so fast!

Jazz In the Pines- Event is a GO (Statement from Bill Lowman, President)

Jazz Committee & Musicians,

According to local authorities, the Cottonwood Fire currently poses no threat to the village of Idyllwild or Idyllwild Arts Academy. Jazz in the Pines is still a go, so please come up to enjoy the music and the mountain. It’s cool up here.

You should be aware that Highway 74 is closed between Hemet and Highway 243 at Mountain Center. Visitors can use Highway 243 off Interstate 10 in Banning or Highway 74 from Palm Desert. For additional information please contact the Idyllwild Fire Protection District, CalFire or CalTrans.


Jeff Hocker, Executive Producer

Jazz in the Pines

Now wait a second, Idyllwild Fire Chief Steve Kunkle told Marshall Smith, our local agent, the following:

Idyllwild Arts gives “go/no go” Jazz in the Pines decision to IFPD Chief Kunkle!!

According to Diane Miller, speaking on behalf of Idyllwild Arts CEO Bill Lowman, Idyllwild Arts gave the “go no/go” decision to proceed with this weekend’s Jazz in the Pines Festival to Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) Chief Steve Kunkle.

It should be pointed out that Chief Kunkle is not yet part of the unified command that presently includes CalFire and the Forest Service. IFPD will be included if and when the fire crosses a designated point set by the unified command that makes it likely the fire will move uphill and easterly toward the Hill communities.

But Chief Kunkle does issue the special permit that allows the festival to proceed. Because of that, and wanting to provide potential attendees and townspeople more than adequate cancellation notice, Kunkle established a “pre-trigger” point for pulling the permits and cancelling the festival.

Should the fire cross to the south side of the North Fork of the San Jacinto, a distance of approximately 3 to 5 miles from the present fire site, Kunkle will effectively cancel the festival. Last night the fire was at Kunkle’s pre-trigger point but air support and firefighters on the fire line beat the fire back to its present location, effectively moving it farther away from Hill communities.

The fire is moving (at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28), according to the Forest Service Website, at a “moderate rate” of speed, north and away from Idyllwild, which is to the northeast. The greatest present activity is on the fire’s western flank. Winds are at 10 mph, the temperature is 107 degrees F. and humidity is at a low 7%. Kunkle believes that even should the fire cross his “pre-trigger” point it would be, using “current models,” two days before the fire reaches the Hill communities, unless wind conditions were to pick up.

Kunkle expressed concern over the economic consequence of canceling the festival, both to Idyllwild Arts and to local merchants who depend on this weekend to make much of their bottom line, but expressed that his main concern is safety.

Kunkle’s “pre-trigger” point is 1-1/2 miles west of the official Hill evacuation trigger point at Fisherman’s Point.

Kunkle said Idyllwild Arts can decide at any time prior to the point at which his responsibility kicks in, i.e. his “pre-trigger” point, to cancel the festival.

Town meeting Friday night

At the 6 p.m. public meeting at Idyllwild School gymnasium, photos from top, new Team II Incident Commander Mike Wakoski with local IC Dave Fiorella, who has only had three hours of sleep since the fire began; community members gather around maps of the fire; Team II Public Information Officer Marc Peebles; and San Jacinto District Ranger Laurie Rosenthal talking to the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council before the public meeting. More than 300 people attended the public meeting. Photos by J.P. Crumrine

Cottonwood Fire — Day 2

The most recent information will be posted at the top of this blog. If you read from the bottom up, you’ll get a sense of how the situation and emotions are changing during the day.

For those who want a more "official" report on the fire stituation that also includes a map of the fire's location, you can visit the Forest Service's Website that tracks all active fires in the U.S.

Go to the following URL:

6:30 p.m.
The Cottonwood Fire is now at 2,200 acres and only 10% contained. Temperature is 108 degrees. Winds are at 7 to 11 mph with gusts of up to 20 mph and moving westerly. Humidity is at 3%.

6 p.m.
The mandatory evacuations for Willowbrook Road in Valle Vista have been lifted. The Cottonwood Fire is still at 1,200 acres and only 5% contained. It is about 1 mile east of Cranston Guard Station and 4 miles east of Hemet. The cause is under investigation.

12:32 p.m.
The Cottonwood Fire is now at 1,200 acres and still only 5% contained.

9:50 a.m.
Idyllwild Fire Chief Steve Kunkle has all of his vehicles staffed and about 19 firefighters active currently. That includes several from the City of Hemet.

“Because of the new relationship with Hemet [the dispatch service], we have extra help,” Kunkle said.

Regarding the rumor that buses have been chartered to evacuate the town or camps, IFPD doesn't know anything about charter buses. Individual camps may be requesting buses as their own precautions.

Kunkle is monitoring the fire and in communication with Idyllwild Arts about the status of Jazz in the Pines, scheduled for tomorrow. Currently, it is still a go!

7:30 a.m.
The latest Forest Service information from John Miller, public information officer:

Overnight, the Cottonwood Fire grew to 1,000 acres and containment is 5 percent.

The good news — Big Bear Hot Shots did a great job overnight working the eastern perimeter. This could abate the fire’s movement in this direction, but all of us, including the firefighters, are totally dependent upon what we can’t control — Mother Nature and the winds.

The fire is moving at a moderate rate of speed in a northern direction. It grew on the west and northwest edge of the fire away from Idyllwild overnight.
From Miller’s perspective at Cranston Guard Station in Valle Vista this morning, the fire’s most active area is its western flank.

The overnight winds drove the fire away from Idyllwild.

Bad news — Highway 74 from Valle Vista to Mountain Center is closed and anticipated to remain closed through the weekend. When you see the equipment being used to protect us, you understand that the trucks have to parked along the highway. Traffic control is a lower priority (this is JP's opinion) while they are trying to gain control of the fire.

Remember or learn —— NO evacuation orders are in effect for Idyllwild, Pine Cove or the Hill, stay calm, close to home and be prepared. Enjoy your morning beverage and share some thoughts online.

The only evacuations have been voluntary. Those are five people in the lower Bee Canyon area. As of 8:30, a mandatory evacuation was issued for Willowbrook Road in Valle Vista east of Hemet

From the Forest Service Cottonwood Update:
Staffing: 320

20 Engines, 9 Crews, 1 Dozer, 5 Air Tankers, 3 Helicopters and 3 Water

Terrain/vegetation/difficulties: Steep and rocky terrain; heavy fuels (chaparral)

Current situation: The Cottonwood Fire is approximately 1 mile east of Cranston and 10 miles east of Hemet in the San Jacinto Mountains, currently at 1,000 acres and a moderate rate of spread. Highway 74 is closed from Borco Street to Highway 243 and voluntary evacuations are in place in the vicinity of Bee Canyon. Before sunset, fixed and rotary wing aircraft dropped fire retardant and water to slow the forward progression of the fire. Ground resources will work through the night. Aircraft will be on at daybreak.

Evacuations: A dozen homes (five people) were evacuated under voluntary evacuation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cottonwood Fire

ATTN Readers, especially FaceBook users:

NO EVACUATION ORDERS HAVE BEEN ISSUED. Please remain calm and at home, be prepared, but night time weather and wind will be in our favor.

A fire has broken out about 1 mile east of the Forest Service's Cranston Guard Station. At 9:15 p.m., the fire has burned about 600 acres and spreading northeast moderately and slower than at 6 p.m.

Although the fire is 5% contained, U.S. Forest Service public information officer for the fire, John Miller said, "We do not see a threat to Idyllwild."

Highway 74 is closed from Borco Street in Valle Vista to Mountain Center.

The Forest Service has ordered three strikes teams, air tankers, two dozers and six crews.

The Martin Mars airtanker (top photo), from Lake Elsinore, has been dispatched to help drop water. From the Forest Service operating manual, the Martin Mars operates on the philosophy of “gallons per hour”. Simply stated, this means a direct attack on the fire by dropping the largest possible amount of water or gel in the shortest possible time. It is capable of delivering up to 7,200 gallons of water, foam or gel depending on the fuel load.

Dave Fiorella, San Jacinto Ranger District fire chief, is the incident commander.

As of 7:20 p.m., the Mountain Disaster Preparedness volunteers CERT / Radio Comm are in an active standby status. They have set up a communications center at the fire station with Dorian Paul, MDP’s Communication Director, Communication Liaison. For details of MDP advice, see JP's blog.

Second photo by J.P. Crumrine taken from Idyllwild. Bottom photo by Rachel Welch taken from Hemet.

More pictures can be seen on JP's Blog, thanks to Doris Lombard.

Coroner in Anza

About noon today, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office was called to the 59000 block of Upper Tule Road in Anza to investigate an unattended death. No identification of the individual was available, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Friday, 5 p.m., The District Attorney's Office confirmed today that Ziniuk was found deceased inside his home Thursday afternoon. The cause is under investigation.

This is the same locale and block where Jack Mark Zinuik resides.

He is the Anza man charged with animal cruelty when sheriff’s deputies discovered a decapitated horse on his property in late April.

The Riverside County Animal Services Department has been called to the scene and removed two dogs, puppies, chickens, a duck, a parrot and a parakeet, according to John Welsh, public information officer for the Animal Services Department.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

IFPD election

The three people elected to four-year terms on the Idyllwild fire protection Distgrict Commission are Jeannine Charles-Stigall, Ben Killingworth and Chip Schelly.

The Registrar of Voters released the official count of write-in votes tonight and candidate Steve Kepler received 137 votes, well short of Killingsworth's 251. He had the third highest total of the seven candidates.

Schelly lead the count with 466 votes followed by Charles-Stigall who garnered 403. Killingsworth was third. Former IFPD President Glen "Mac" McWilliams and commission Earl Parker trailed Killingsworth by 80 votes with 173 each.

Togther Schelly and Charles-Stigall outpolled the other four candidates on the ballot. Their overwhelming victory would appear to be a signal for modifying the current departmental attitude.

Good luck to the victors and thank you for your time and effort to the defearted and former commissioners.They compiled a lot of time working with the staff and devoted energy for many years to the department. Thanks again and enjoy the future.

AUGUST 25, 2009
STEPHEN G. KEPLER ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 137

Former Supervisor Roy Wilson dies

Earlier today, former Riverside County 4th District Supervisor Roy Wilson died.

Only on Friday, did he unexpectedly resigned his board seat for health reasons. Early this spring, he had hip replacement surgery.

Board Chairman and 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone expressed his sorrow and grief for Wilson and solace for his family.

"He passed this evening and is no longer suffering," Stone said. "Even in his final days at home, he was thinking of his district."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is responsible for appointing a successor to Wilson. this person will complete the term and stand for re-election in 2010. Wilson sudden declining health was unexpected to everyone. He was already building a warchest for his re-election campaign when his announcement Friday stunned the Coachella Valley and all of Rifverside County, too.

On Tuesday, the county board (with Supervisor Bob Buster absent) endorsed State Sen. John J Benoit (R 37) to replace Wilson. He had recommended Benoit strongly in his resignation letter and the board was more than happy to comply with Wilson's request.

The following is from the county's press release this evening:

"Supervisor Roy Wilson, whose long career as an educator and public servant earned respect and admiration far beyond the region he represented, passed away peacefully at his south Palm Desert home Wednesday evening surrounded by family and friends.

"Colleagues and county staff were heartbroken by the news, which came less than a week after Supervisor Wilson abruptly announced that a sudden decline in health had forced him to step down from the Board of Supervisors. Details regarding services are pending, and no information about the cause of Supervisor Wilson’s passing was available Wednesday.

"Supervisor Wilson’s family thanked the entire community for its outpouring of support and affection since his resignation. Supervisor Wilson, as most know, was a very private person. It was his request that the media and public respect the family's privacy during this period."

No changes at Idyllwild bank because of sale

Jeri Sue Haney, manager of Idyllwild's Guaranty Bank branch, now BBVA Compass, said that the change to new ownership has been seamless. Contrary to a recent blog, Guaranty did not shut down on Friday and Saturday, but was open for business normal business hours both days. Bank operations resumed on Monday Aug. 24 as BBVA Compass, an American subsidiary of Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vicaya Argentaria SA (BBVA) currently headquartered in Bilbao, Spain, but moving corporate headquarters to Madrid. BBVA Compass is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama.

Haney said there are no changes as a result of the sale. All current jobs are safe and the branch will remain open.

"We are now the 13th safest bank in the world," said Haney, referring to BBVA's reputation for stability, its risk-averse nature, its $750 billion in assets and Global Finance magazine's recent ranking of BBVA.

Guaranty, now BBVA, customers are instructed to continue to use the same checks, account numbers, ATM cards, web sites, on-line services and telephone contact numbers. No changes to CD or savings account interest rates will occur as a result of the sale and rebranding.

Haney said Guaranty software and programs would continue to be used until the first of the year when a new state of the art conversion will occur, allowing access to an expanded branch network of more than 750 branches in seven states, and to a broader array of quality products and services.

BBVA Compass received no TARP money and all its regulatory capital ratios continue to exceed "well capitalized" as defined by the Federal Reserve.

The bank's name will not change completely until the beginning of 2010 when Guaranty's operating systems and product platforms are integrated with those of BBVA Compass.

Although a subsidiary of a foreign bank, BBVA Compass is a U.S. bank - Alabama chartered and a member of the Federal Reserve System. As such BBVA Compass is governed by U.S. banking laws and regulations, including those regarding the privacy and protection of customer information.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

IFPD election results

Three new faces will be sitting in the front of the IFPD meeting room after December 4. That's the date the commissioner-elects will be officially sworn.

Of course, stranger thiings have happened and one or more might be invited to be seated sooner. Afterall Commissiioner Lloyd Vaught has already expressed a desire to retire from the board. Now he will be.

Victors Dr. Charles "Chip" Schelly and Jeannine Charles-Stigall won commission seats in a surprisingly easy race. The voters overwhelmingly retired all of the incumbents except for Ben Killingsworth. (Vote totals are below.)

As of 9 p.m., Tuesday evening, Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore said write-in candidate Steve Kepler had 138 votes with more ballots to be counted. So it is possible that he may eventually slip past Killingsworth, although it is a long-shot.

Schelly and Jeannine each polled more than twice Glen McWilliam's and Earl Parker's vote totals. Both received more votes than President Paul Riggi did two years ago.

Unless a surprise occurs, the composition of the IFDP commission in December will be Riggi, Killingsworth, Schelly, Charles-Stigall and Pete Capparelli, who along with Riggi will be up for election in 2011.

Candidate Vote Count Percent
Schelly 460 30.30
Charles-Stigall 403 26.55
Killingsworth 251 16.53
McWilliams 172 11.33
Parker 170 11.20
Vaught 62 4.08

Caltrans seal-coating Highway 243

Caltrans will begin a $1.9-million project to surface seal Highway 243 from near Keenwild Guard Station to about one-half mile west of Vista Point, along a 12-mile stretch. Construction begins Monday, Aug. 31, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The project was postponed to this date because of Jazz in the Pines.

Completion is estimated to take three weeks. One-lane traffic control will be in effect. No work is scheduled during the Labor Day holiday.

This project moves forward through the use of Federal Stimulus Funds. It is one of 14 projects in the Inland Empire that received $200.9 million in federal stimulus funding.

The signs are posted as an advance advisory for local traffic.

Motorists should reduce their speed and follow all advisory signs posted in the project limits. Caltrans asks that motorist be aware of the construction area and always make a point to slow for the cone zone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Agenda for Historic Preservation District Mtg

IDYLLWILD Community Meeting

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
Idyllwild Nature Center
25225 Highway 243, Idyllwild, CA


1. Introductions (also please sign in, and update the attendance sign-in sheet, as needed. Thank you).

2. Presentation of Draft Historic Resources Survey for Idyllwild Commercial Corridor, dated July 31, 2009 (Tanya Sorrell, LSA Associates, Inc. and Riverside County Staff - Jerry Jolliffe and Leslie Mouriquand, Planning Department and Keith Herron, Regional Park and Open Space District) – approx. 30 minutes.

3. Questions and comments from members of the community regarding the Draft Historic Resources Survey – approx. 30 minutes.

4. Discussion of the next steps and approximate schedule for the completion of the Historic Resources Survey, and consideration by the County of whether to establish a historic preservation district in Idyllwild. (all staff, consultant, and public questions/responses) – approx. 30 minutes.

5. Updates, as available, on other County activities (all staff) – approx. 15 minutes.

6. Adjournment.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spanish banking giant acquires Guaranty Bank

On Friday August 21, Spanish banking giant BBVA acquired Texas based Guaranty Bank, in a federally brokered deal. After being closed on Friday and Saturday, Guaranty branches in Texas and California should reopen under the new name BBVA Compass, an Alabama based subsidiary of BBVA based in Madrid.

Guaranty had $13.5 billion in assets as of June 30, 2009 but bad loans caused Guaranty to take substantial write-downs on some assets, making it, as the company announced in July, "critically undercapitalized."

Acquiring bank BBVA employs 112,000 people and serves 47 million customers in more than 30 countries. It is Spain's No. 2 bank by stock market value and reportedly has $750 billion in assets. It is also Mexico's largest bank.

BBVA Chairman and CEO Francisco Gonzalez has aggressively pushed to expand his bank's presence in the United States, acquiring Compass Bancshares Inc. in 2007 for $9.6 billion and rebranding it as BBVA Compass. BBVA Compass has 583 branches in Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico.

The Guaranty deal expands BBVA presence in California, something CEO Gonzalez has long wanted, but would lead to branch consolidation in Texas because of existing overlap with BBVA Compass.

BBVA is known in international banking circles for its "risk averse" and cautious culture, sticking to the unglamorous business of taking deposits and making loans. Largely because of that BBVA has avoided the brunt of the global financial crisis, allowing it to continue its expansion in the United States.

A formal announcement regarding BBVA's takeover of Guaranty should be made later this week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caltrans project on 243

Caltrans Construction will be conducting a seal coat project on SR243 from
post mile markers 1.1 to 13.3. which makes the project limit from
(approximately) Keenwild to (approximately) one half mile west of Vista

The signs are posted as an advance advisory for local traffic. Work is
scheduled to start WHEN materials delivery can be confirmed... It is Caltran's
intent to issue the commuter alert at that time. Unfortunately that info
may not be available until later this week or early next. Dates posted on the signs are an
indicator. Caltrans wants residents to know the project is coming.

The project is approximately three weeks long, daylight hours. Traffic
control and lane closures will be in effect as the project moves along the
12 mile stretch.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Missing Idyllwild minor

Idyllwild resident Morgan Lane Citrowski, 17, born Jan. 11, 1992, is missing and considered an "endangered runaway." Morgan is describged as white, 5'9", 185 pounds, and blonde with hazel eyes. She has been missing since July 19.

The site "National Center for Missing and Exploited Children," adds, "Morgan may be in the company of an adult male. They may travel to Mexico. Morgan has multiple tattoos."

Anyone having information about Morgan's location or the male individual's indentity, vehicle, license number, etc. can contact either the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or the Riverside County Sheriff's Office at 951 791-3400.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Smokey air

According the Cal-Fire, the smoke in the air around Idyllwild this morning is due to the La Brea Fire in Santa Barbara County, 21 miles east of Santa Maria. The fire has burned more than 67,000 acres and is just 10-percent contained. The fire started on August 8, and the last update was posted today, August 14, 2009, at 7 a.m.

Friday smoke in the air

Smoke in the air Friday morning Aug. 14, according to Cal Fire and IFPD, is from the La Brea fire in Santa Barbara county, 20 miles west of Santa Maria. Cal Fire's web site shows no local incidents.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canines saved after collision on Hwy 243

Animal Control Officer Michelle Rousseau smiles after recovering the two crash-surviving dogs, Maya (on the officer's right) and Nikita (with the long, silky head of hair on the officer's left).(Photo courtesy of Riverside County Animal Services Captain Betsy Ritchie).

About 9:30 a.m. today, two cars collided on Highway 243 between Banning and Twin Pines.

One occupant was trapped in the vehicle and had to be extracted. Several individuals were transported to local hospitals.

Two female malamute wolf hybrids were occupants of one of the vehicles. Following the crash they ran loose on the highway.

The dogs appeared very nervous and shaken, but didn’t appear injured whatsoever, according to Riverside County Animal Control Officer Michelle Rousseau, who recovered both dogs.

Maya, about 1-year-old, was more trusting and easier to control, she said.

“Maya finally got close enough and I slipped on her leash,” Rousseau said. “She came up and licked my face – and that’s how I got her.”

After the highway was opened about 11:45, Nikta, the second and older dog (about 16 months), was apprehended about 12:30. Nikita didn’t seem to trust Rousseau. At one point, because of the danger to the dog and vehicles on the highway, Rousseau and her colleague, Officer James Huffman, considered the use of a tranquilizer gun.

It took some coaxing, but finally Nikita finally succumbed. Somehow she figured the officers were there to help.

“Nikita seemed very desperate,” Rousseau said. “I called out her name and she came up to me and sat down. I put her leash around her and she kissed me.”

Officer Rousseau transported the dogs to a boarding facility in Banning, as requested by the dogs’ owners.

Responding agencies included the California Highway Patrol, firefighters from Riverside County/Cal Fire’s Station 89 out of Banning, Caltrans and Riverside County Animal Services.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

UHS approaches VHS

A third party, Universal Heath Systems (UHS), has written to VHS expressing a desire to purchase its assets. UHS is a national healthcare company whose share are traded on the NYSE.

Rather than try to maximize the return to the district’s owners, the board has granted the local physicians 90 days to negotiate privately and exclusively with a special board subcommittee.

Unless the public can compare the different offers, how can it be sure or how can claims of giving away its assets in a sweetheart deal ever be resolved? It appears that the documentation and meetings are going to be shrouded despite assertions of the need for transparency.

The UHS offer is below and you click on the image to get a bigger and better view: [see JP ‘s blog for more on the VHS reaction to the public records request].

Governor signs Benoit's Good Samaritan bill

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today (August 6) signed into law State Senator John J. Benoit's (R-Bermuda Dunes) Good Samaritan Protection Act (Senate Bill 39). Benoit's bill adds additional protection from prosecution for disaster service workers. Previous law provided that no disaster worker who performs disaster services during a state of war emergency, a state of emergency, or a local emergency shall be liable for civil damages on account of personal injury to or death of any person or property. Benoit's bill extends that protection to encompass acts of disaster workers "acting within the scope of their responsibilities under the authority of the govennmental emergency organization, as provided." It provides these protections for legal action filed on or after the effective date of this bill.

Benoit worked in conjunction with Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) who authored companion bill AB 83 which contained language originally in SB 39. AB 83, also signed into law by the governor on August 6, corrects a December 2008 California Supreme Court decision that had revised the state's long standing Good Samaritan bill by stripping protection from prosecution of those bystanders who provide rescue at the scene of an emergency.

Feuer's bill, with Benoit's original language, restores protection to those who provide rescue as well as those who provide medical aid.

This is Benoit's first piece of legislation to become law since he became a state senator.

Vaught to resign from IFPD board

Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) Commissioner Lloyd Vaught said today, August 6, prior to a scheduled interview with the Town Crier that he intends to resign for reasons of health.

Vaught said he had tried to get his name taken off the ballot but it was too late to do so. Vaught said he would inform IFPD President Paul Riggi today of his decision.

We are researching, with the Registrar of Voters, how his resignation this close to an election would effect results in the event he is voted in.

We will update this blog with information from the Registrar once we receive it.

A reminder to voters - this is a mail in ballot election. There will be no polling places for walk in voting. What you have received in the mail is not a sample ballot. It is your mailed in ballot. Mailed ballots must be received by the Registrar no later than 8 p.m. on August 25th.