With October marking 10 years since the Santiago Canyon wildfires, the Orange County Fire Watch program is gearing up for the dry season with a full deployment exercise.
“This is our first full-scale deployment exercise,” Tony Pointer, Irvine Ranch Conservancy program coordinator for Fire Watch said in a statement. “The deployment is designed to give volunteers access and encouragement to see Fire Watch locations they may not usually monitor. Considering this is the 10th anniversary of the Santiago Canyon fires, it seems more appropriate than ever to take a proactive approach.”
Volunteer-based Fire Watch is run through a partnership between OC Parks, the cities of Irvine and Newport Beach, Irvine Ranch Conservancy and Orange County Fire Authority. Its mission is to help prevent wildfires through education, deterrence and early reporting.
The volunteers monitor high-risk areas throughout the county and deploy to specific spots based on fire spread research and historical ignition data. The volunteers can report suspicious or dangerous activity, and help with early detection and public outreach. Deployment of the volunteers occurs on Red Flag Warning days, with Santa Ana wind conditions and in other special circumstances.
The deployment exercise will take place June 24 at the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, simulating an actual deployment as much as possible. Volunteers will arrive in full uniform, ready to complete two-hour shifts between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. They will interact with the public and report anything that could lead to accidental or intentional ignitions.
Because of the increased rainfall over the past winter, officials anticipate more wildfire fuel due to the increased growth of non-native grasses and invasive weeds in the area.
“The rain we received has assisted the vegetation that has not had the best conditions to sprout and grow the last few years,” Pointer said. “The potential will be a combination of the increased vegetation growth and how hot and how severe the Santa Ana wind conditions will be this year.”