Jeff Smith, a resident of Pine Cove, is no stranger to fires in these mountains, “We’ve had several fires climb up my ridge over the past month and you stop what you’re doing, your attention goes to your family and that becomes your focus.”
As the cranston fire ripped through the mountain communities he says what he was worried about for years happened in Idyllwild, “We had multiple hydrants that failed during this fire when fire crews tried to hook up to them and could not produce water out of them they were in direct defense of multiple properties.”
He says this could have cost lives, “When your water source fails from a hydrant it poses a serious threat to the safety of those crews and the safety of those homeowners.”
Smith says his years of experience working for a water district tells him hydrants around the town are substandard.
He says pictures he took tell the story: broken hydrants, red tagged hydrants and this one marked it only produces five gallons of water per minute and the majority are orange, “That orange stripe says that it’s a marginal hydrant to provide fire protection, when the fire crews came to hook up they couldn’t even produce the marginal flows, they had to red tag the hydrant and mark it as a failed hydrant.”
Idyllwild Fire department Chief Patrick Reitz says that’s not true, “All of our hydrants operated, all of them operated correctly, all of them operated with the appropriate pressures, there were no issues.”
He says they meet the national standards and have earned a top rating based partly on their hydrant standards, “You’re getting municipal level fire service in a rural mountain environment,” adding they don’t rely on hydrants on wildland fires, “you can’t put enough water on fast enough for those large scale incidents, where they lost structures outside of our fire districts there were no hydrants.”
The Idyllwild Water District says all hydrants had water and were broken when they were being shut off and they’re in the process of upgrading hydrants at a rate of 15 per year and lines and in five years 40 percent of all hydrants will be replaced.
Smith says this can’t come soon enough and all residents who call these mountains home should be concerned. “It is life and death, you cannot outrun the fire … if the fire burns over the top of your road, you have no way out.”