PALM DESERT — At 7 a.m. on a blistering July morning, as the wind-fueled Cranston Fire spread to 11,500 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest in Mountain Center.

Democratic U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D., stood vigil at the Command Center for a briefing, vowing to help in any way possible.

Ruiz deployed his staff to visit shelters to determine the needs.

The Congressman worked with Cal Fire and the U.S. Forestry to determine what more they would need.

On Thursday, Dec. 20, Ruiz and the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council jointly announced a $200,000 grant to improve wildfire prevention and safety education in communities throughout the San Jacinto Mountains. Over the next two years, the grant will pay for a program to remove hazardous fuels from private property and educate local residents about fire safety.

The grant is from the California Fire Safe Council, which allocates federal funds from the U.S. Forest Service for prevention and response.

Ruiz said he has seen houses and property saved during the Cranston Fire as the direct result of educational outreach and fuel reduction projects promoted by the Council.

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U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz at Command Center of the Cranston Fire.

“I am proud to have helped the (Council) earn this grant award,” Ruiz said in a prepared statement. “The Cranston Fire demonstrated how quickly wildfires can spread, and groups like MCFSC are helping our communities prevent wildfires before they endanger local residents. As these fires grow in size and frequency, I will continue to work with MCFSC to bring home necessary resources to help prevent fires and keep my constituents safe.”

The $200,000 grant will help pay for a new program that educates residents of Idyllwild and the surrounding communities about fire safety, in addition to funding the removal of dead trees, brush, and overgrowth from private property. These services will be publicly available and entirely free to local homeowners.

“Many of the people coming to live in the mountains know very little of the forest environment and its relationship with wildland fire. The protection of life and property in a rural community as it relates to wildland fire depends largely on continuous forest fuels reduction done by the local property owners,” Pete Coy, field supervisor for the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council. “The grant funding that we receive is used to help educate these property owners and to give them incentive to make their homes and their community as fire safe as possible.”

The Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council was formed in 2001 to improve responsible forest management, provide firewood to the needy, and educate residents about fire safety. MCFSC largely consists of volunteers – including former firefighters – who help local communities prevent and manage wildfires threatening densely forested areas in the San Jacinto mountains.