Friday, September 26, 2008

canyon perspective

Mill Creek Canyon and Forest Falls from Galena Peak, Aug. 26 2008.

By Guy McCarthy

FOREST FALLS - If anyone in this mountain town had heard of a federal study showing many residents in the San Bernardino National Forest experience stress from living in such a fire-prone region, they weren't letting on to it Friday.

At Forest Falls Fire Station 128, two county firefighters politely referred questions to Capt. Tom McIntosh.

In his office at Gillmore Real Estate, McIntosh said he hadn't heard of the study, and he was too busy with other work to consider it at the moment.

Across the street at the Elkhorn General Store, co-owner Gail Forgues said she hadn't heard of the study either. During busy weekends and the occasional town emergency, her store often serves as information central.

Forgues expressed confidence in federal management of the San Bernardino National Forest, but admitted she was not sure what to expect from the next presidential administration as far as forest maintenance.

She said she wasn't expecting many people to watch the Obama-McCain debate tonight on the store's flat-screen television.

"I'm not sure what I'd ask them about," Forgues said, given an opportunity to form a question for the two candidates. "I'd have to think about it."

The semi-rustic Elkhorn General Store stands at roughly 6,000 feet elevation, next to the popular El Mexicano eatery in the center of Forest Falls. The town is about 80 miles east of Los Angeles in Mill Creek Canyon, which lies below the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Bulletin board at Elkhorn General Store.

In recent years, federal grants helped pay for expensive helicopter removal of hundreds of dead trees on slopes above Forest Falls. Helicopter logging is dangerous and can cost up to $100 per tree.

McIntosh and others in the community are experienced in firefighting, alpine rescue, swift-water rescue, house-to-house search-and-rescue, and debris removal. Long-time Forest Falls residents reflect their rugged surroundings, and many are self-reliant and competent in emergencies.

In the past century, Forest Falls residents have experienced earthquakes, floods, rock avalanches and debris flows - but no serious fires. Other parts of the forest have burned repeatedly in the past 100 years. But not upper Mill Creek Canyon.

New residents are aware of the history, though they don't dwell on it.

"We know about what they say," said Roger Derda, a former community development and planning director in Banning who moved to Forest Falls recently. He was painting the side of his home Friday afternoon, further up-stream from the Elkhorn, El Mexicano and Gillmore.

"They say it's a box canyon and all that," Derda said. "We're not concerned."

Yucaipa Ridge and Mill Creek Canyon from Galena Peak, Aug 26 2008.

The San Bernardino National Forest covers more than 1,000 square miles in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.


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