Riverside County Fire Department to construct wildfire fuel break between Wildomar and Temescal Valley

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The Riverside County Fire Department was recently awarded a grant to construct a wildfire fuel break between the Elsinore mountains and a large swath of western Riverside County. Will Fritz photo

The Riverside County Fire Department was awarded grant funding to create what’s known as a “fuel break” from Wildomar to the Temescal Valley area along the Cleveland National Forest boundary to limit fire risk, the agency announced Oct. 29. 

Known as the Elsinore Front Country Fuel Project, funding is being provided by Cal Fire through the California Climate Investments Program, according to Riverside County Fire. The program takes funds from cap-and-trade carbon credits – which are sold to companies that produce carbon emissions – and puts the money to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The fuel break project near the Lake Elsinore area is meant to reduce wildfires in the area because they are one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, Riverside County Fire Department Division Chief Gregg Bratcher said at a community meeting at the department’s Perris station, Oct. 29.

“What we have out there are trees and brush that are carbon sinks out in the wildland. They’re the ones that take the greenhouse gases – the carbon, and absorb it into the plant material and it serves as a sink,” he said. “So if we can put fuel breaks, fuel modifications in strategic areas throughout the county, we can help reduce catastrophic wildfires.”

Not only does the project help reduce emissions, it will also protect residents who live near the urban-wildland interface from risk of future fires.

“With the recent Holy Fire – that’s probably the most recent we had in this area – we see how quickly we can lose some of our landscapes to these fires,” Bratcher said. “The fuel breaks and fuel modifications are what we’ve seen and what we know will help change the fire behavior in those areas. We’re reducing the fuels to slow them down enough that we can get our first responders into these areas and we can actually make a stand against these fires.”

Riverside County Fire Capt. Mic Sebastian said the fuel break, which will be 22 miles long, spanning from Bear Creek to Bedford Canyon, has been a priority for the last 15 years.

The break, which will be as much as 300 feet wide in some places, won’t be able to stop anything like the Camp Fire that leveled Paradise in 2018 which had ember spotting distances as long as 5 miles.

“Granted, we can’t build a fuel break wide enough or long enough to stop a 70 mph wind-driven fire,” Sebastian said. 

Another complication is the Elsinore effect, which drives fires downhill into the Lake Elsinore area in the evening hours. But anything helps, he said.

“In my opinion, it’s gonna be a really good project for you citizens,” Sebastian said.

Jeremy Murphy, the grant administrator for the fire department, said the project is expected to take a couple of years to complete and should be finished by March 2022.

Murphy said the fire department hired a professional forester to oversee all fuel and vegetation reduction who will work with property owners. A licensed timber operator will later be hired to do the actual removal of vegetation. Contractors are already out on affected properties to evaluate how the fuel break will be completed, Murphy said.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.