Tony Pointer is the manager of the Orange County Fire Watch program, which helps reduce the risk of wildfires in the county through education and early reporting. Pointer tells us more about the program, and ways you can help.
What is the Fire Watch program?
The Fire Watch program is facilitated in partnership with OC Parks, City of Irvine, City of Newport Beach, Irvine Ranch Conservancy, and Orange County Fire Authority
(OCFA) and was created to help reduce catastrophic wildfires through education, early
reporting, and deterrence. Irvine Ranch Conservancy and OCFA work together to train volunteers and staff to deploy to areas that are prone to wildfires and monitor for potential fire danger. Deployment occurs during Santa Ana Winds, Red Flag Warning days, and special circumstances that present a potential fire danger like the 4th of July.
What was your experience prior to overseeing the program?
I have worked and volunteered in emergency response and emergency management for over 25 years. I was a Reserve Firefighter with the Orange County Fire Authority during the ’90s and was part of the fire fighting response for the 1993 wildfires including the
Laguna Fire. I worked for the American Red Cross in the Health and Safety Department as the Lead Instructor providing training in topics ranging from basic first aid to scouts to CPR, first aid and Emergency Response Team (ERT) training to companies and organizations. Later, I transitioned to work in Information Technology with other staff and volunteers for operations and disaster response.
What are your essential duties?
Managing our fire prevention activities with our OC Fire Watch volunteers from the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and OC Parks. The Fire Watch volunteers train to deploy on extreme fire danger days such as Red Flag Warning periods while the Santa Ana Winds are blowing. My duties to sustain that volunteerism include recruiting, basic training, continuing enrichment training, and managing the deployments at 36 locations around Orange County from our Fire Watch Operations Center. I also coordinate our Wildfire Awareness messaging at over 25 outreach events and presentations throughout the year.
What are easy ways our readers can help prevent wildfires?
Easy ways range from watching for hazardous activities that can ignite and cause fires to reporting suspicious activities. Call 911 to report vehicles that might be dragging tow chains or have materials expelled from vehicles like faulty catalytic converters and brakes parts that are causing sparks or are hot along and on roads. If you must pull over on roads don’t pull over onto dry grass and brush where hot exhaust pipes and mufflers can ignite fires. If you see a fire or even think you see a fire, call 911 and let our fire and law enforcement agencies investigate the situation. It does not take much wind or weather combined with our dry vegetation for a small fire to become rather large in a short period of time. Next, be aware of when our extreme fire danger periods are. The combination of our dry vegetation and weather events like the Santa Ana winds compound the possibility that a wildfire can expand more rapidly than expected with catastrophic results.
Less easy ways but equally important are to be ready in case of a wildfire. Have a minimum of 100’ brush clearance around structures to allow for a defensible space for firefighters. Harden homes and structures to reduce the chance that embers will ignite a structure far in advance of a fire front. Understand that communities up to three miles away and more from a designated Wildland Urban Interface can be threatened from wind-dispersed and flying embers. Readers can seek out more wildfire prevention information by going to ocfa.org/RSG.
What were some of the causes of recent wildfires in Orange County? Could they
have been prevented?
82% of wildfire ignitions in Orange County are roadside ignitions. Most of those
ignitions are accidental and unintentional. Drivers should be cognizant when they have vehicle problems and be attentive to how and where they deal with them in a safe manner. Southern California has vegetation that is fire-adapted or fire dependent and we will not ever be able to prevent all fires. Our issue is that we have too frequent of fires and the vast majority can be prevented. Community members should be on the watch for the unsafe and accidental situations that could cause a wildfire and call authorities as soon as possible. In the Orange County Fire Watch program and Irvine Ranch Conservancy, we pass on the message that wildfires are a community problem and not just a firefighter problem because this is where we live, work, and enjoy the parks and open spaces.
How can people become involved with the program?
People interested in volunteering can call 714-508-4700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit letsgooutside.org/volunteer for more information on volunteer opportunities with Irvine Ranch Conservancy.