Southern California is home to a Mediterranean climate that produces warm temperatures nearly year-round. While most Orange County residents enjoy the sunny weather, fire risk is a reality on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks and throughout the county. The recent Canyon Fires have been contained, and in the wake of more high winds, low humidity, dry air and charred vegetation, it’s extremely important to stay vigilant in terms of fire prevention.
Orange County Fire Watch recently initiated the largest Fire Watch deployment in three years that strategically placed volunteers in fire-prone locations from the mountains to the sea. Tony Pointer, Orange County Fire Watch Program Coordinator, oversaw the impactful efforts, which included three different deployments in October, and deployed over 130 Fire Watch volunteers. Keep reading to learn why the deployments occurred, what weather zones were affected, and how Fire Watch continues to be the eyes and ears of the Landmarks.
Tony Pointer – When the first reports of low humidity, strong winds, and high temperatures came through in late September, we immediately began a strategy. Fire Watch deployed roughly 130 volunteers in response to what was quickly being identified as a high-risk weather event.
What caused such alarm and what areas were affected?
Tony Pointer – In the past few years, Orange County hasn’t had red flag conditions that extended into Coastal Areas – this was different. The winds were coming down through passes, accelerating and blowing past the peaks and valleys of the Santa Ana Mountains. The risk extended to areas that aren’t often affected including open spaces in Irvine, Newport Beach, Aliso & Wood Canyon Wilderness Park, and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. We had dozens of Fire Watch volunteers watching for suspicious behavior and signs of re-ignition across the county.
What is a re-ignition site and how does it pose a threat?
Tony Pointer – Something as small as a single tree or bush that reignites from an ember can spread to unburned vegetation and potentially start another fire. During the Canyon 2 fire, re-ignition sights happened fairly regularly, about one to two times per day. Particularly near the interior of the fire border. When Fire Watch volunteers spot a suspected re-ignition site, they call 911 and get emergency responders on the scene while they continue to canvas the area.
Were there any fires spotted and will Fire Watch efforts begin to wind down with the approaching winter season?
Tony Pointer – Luckily no major issues were spotted, though it’s important to understand that monitoring lands for fires is necessary year-round. Southern California doesn’t receive a lot of rainfall, it’s in a constant state of dryness. Even with cooler temperatures on their way the lands are still at risk due to arson and roadside ignition. As we enter the rainy season the burn areas are now at risk for flash floods or debris flows, not a certainty but definitely something to keep an eye on. Fire Watch keeps a close eye on Orange County throughout the year to ensure all weather risks are monitored.
How can the community become involved?
Tony Pointer – If you’re interested in volunteering, I highly encourage you explore joining the Fire Watch program. Fire Watch helps minimize and prevent catastrophic fires to preserve open spaces and parks for future generations to enjoy.
To learn more about the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, visit LetsGoOutside.org . If you are interested in learning about or volunteering for the Orange County Fire Watch Program, please call 714-508-4700, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit LetsGoOutside.org/Fire-Watch.