This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Mountain Fire. The massive wildfire destroyed parts of the San Jacinto mountains and its communities, just southwest of our valley. It grew quickly and dangerously, prompting the evacuation of Idyllwild.
"Scary, just totally scary," said Justin Coffman. "We had to evacuate." A year later, the words "Mountain Fire" still elicit some very strong emotions for Coffman. He and his family were some of the 6,000 people forced to leave their homes in Idyllwild and the surrounding communities when the wildfire threatened to jump the mountain.
"Very worried, with everyone that had to evacuate and to think you may come back to nothing," said Renee Coffman.
The fire burned more than 27,000 acres and much to the relief of its residents, never made it to Idyllwild. While their homes and town were safe, the fire had forever changed the psyche of the Coffmans and others like them.
"Always now, because it came so close, definitely it's more on your toes because you just never know when it's going to happen," said Renee. "You never know when you're just going to have to pick up and go again," said Justin.
With this year's hot and dry conditions already drawing comparisons to last year, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz says this kind of attitude is one of the best things to come from the Mountain fire.
"Heightened awareness and heightened readiness, that's really the big difference this year," said Reitz.
Idyllwild Fire, Cal Fire and other agencies have already ran several drills in the area to prepare for the worst. The Coffmans say they've done the same, because they don't want to be surprised again. "We have better knowledge and understanding of what to do now in this scenario, if it happens again, which we pray it doesn't," said Coffman.