Riverside County supervisors are slated Tuesday to endorse actions by the county fire department to seek funding for environmental studies that will mark the start of clearing large swaths of the Santa Ana River bottom to prevent future wildfires.

Board of Supervisors Chair Karen Spiegel is seeking her colleagues’ support for the fire department’s grant search to pay for the environmental impact report.

“We are pleased to have the ability to be a part of the process to reduce the fire emergencies to all communities that are influenced by the river bottom,” Spiegel said in a statement posted to the board’s agenda. “Our objective is to be a part of a unified and dedicated group of organizations and individuals impacted by the defined project area, to attend workshops and cooperatively help define the needs of the area as well as do our part to ensure a successful outcome.”

Fire department administrators are seeking state or federal funds to cover the cost of what will likely be a series of months-long studies to meet requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The river bottom is routinely plagued by fires, most of them ignited within or near homeless encampments, which are spread throughout the often dry waterway. Some fires have led to destruction of property and injuries, as well as large-scale evacuations.

The city of Riverside has attempted to clear the encampments and find alternate housing for some of the transients, but they typically drift to other spaces in the vicinity, or others take their place.

“We are confident that this undertaking is crucial to the health and longevity of the Santa Ana River bottom’s vegetation areas, species habitats and community safety,” Spiegel wrote. “Riverside County is pleased to be a part of this project and believe it is the first step in future fuels reduction projects, community improvements (and) water reclamation projects … for improving the resiliency of adjacent communities in the wildland urban interface.”

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