Ready or not, Orange County’s fire season is coming. We must prepare.
Historically, my District’s foothill and canyon communities have been ravaged by fire. Lives and structures are once again at risk as tinder-dry wildlands fuel flames driven by the Santa Ana winds. That is why I have proactively directed the County to pursue fire safety efforts to prevent another wind-whipped conflagration.
My District — including Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills, Orange Park Acres, North Tustin and the rugged canyons — are blessed in natural beauty yet cursed by natural disasters. On August 14 at the Board of Supervisors, my colleagues and I allocated $4.5 million of state funding to a new pilot program, enhancing the technical capabilities available to firefighters and first responders.
As we saw in 2018, the wet season’s overgrown vegetation dried out, sparked and seared under the summer sun, resulting in California’s deadliest wildfire season on record. Last year’s eruption of California wildfires was declared a National Disaster.
Our Third District alone saw the monstrous Canyon Fire 2 and the unrelenting Holy Fire, which scorched tens of thousands of acres and damaged dozens of structures; several firefighters were injured, and all of Orange County suffered poor air quality.
After the conflagration, a drive up to Peter’s Canyon and into Anaheim Hills seemed otherworldly, not our beautiful Orange County: barren tree branches, charred structures, and grounds encrusted with ash. Large patches of golden hillsides seemed to be history.
After witnessing such colossal destruction, I wanted better for the people in our County.
Fortunately, I have that opportunity as a Board Director at the Orange County Fire Authority to work to end that.
On August 22, I moved for the Board to accept the $4.5 million in funds on an emergency basis to address the real difficulties of fire safety. It does no good to have money in the winter if a blaze breaks out today.
My motion to immediately use these legislative funds will make available aerial-based intelligence, leveraging live data to create predictive models of fire behavior potential, informing our firefighting agencies on the best next steps to take before a crisis occurs.
Specifically, my motion authorized funds for a fixed-wing aircraft to be available to survey our remote County land, analyzing weather conditions before smoke is even detected. Local emergency providers will have immediate access to live digital footage so that they can assess threats and make life-saving decisions for people on the ground. This public safety effort is revolutionary in theory, and I think we will find it to be life-saving in practice.
Technology testing ends on September 1, when the aircraft becomes available for emergency response.
Within five minutes of the aircraft arriving at a fire, an infra-red map will begin to track the movement of the flames and ultimately, work to ensure the blaze does not bleed too far out. During this time, emergency responders and firefighting teams will communicate with each other for the best course of action, including earlier and more accurate warning and evacuation notices to residents.
Benefits will derive from the interplay of technology and human ingenuity; our firefighters need not march blindly into deadly blazes, nor will we blindly trust technology to rescue our first responders. The two must work in tandem to pull off a successful operation. I want to see this technology increase safety for our firefighters and our residents.
If we can manage the irregularities of wildfire behavior through real-time information, we can decrease human panic in the presence of wildfires, making for calmer, quicker evacuations.
As Third District Supervisor, I am taking swift action to lessen the potential loss of life or destruction to our residents and businesses dwelling in fire-prone communities.
It is not yet possible to stop the start of every flame, but we can implement a plan that organizes our response to the unpredictable chaos of wildfires. Equipped with proper funding and advanced technology, I aim to protect and empower our vigilant firefighting teams. We cannot go back and undo these hazardous fires; we can only learn from them, keep a more watchful eye on them, and move forward with greater perspective.
We know it is potentially too deadly not to do anything.
Supervisor Donald P. Wagner represents the Third District communities of Irvine, Anaheim Hills, Orange, Tustin, Villa Park and Yorba Linda on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
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