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.