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Fire-spotter volunteers defend in OC

September 23, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
It has been nearly a year since the Santiago wildfire consumed a number of homes in its path of destruction. Tuesday, a number of fire agencies teamed up to stage a mock drill in the Santiago burn area in an effort to be prepared for the next emergency.Firefighters show off new equipment, the foam system one of 12 the Orange County Fire Authority will have on hand to try to protect structures in the path of wildfire.

But it's the people dressed in the brightly colored vests who authorities are also counting on this fire season.

"We can't do this alone," said OCFA Chief Chip Prather. "We need the help of these volunteers."

One-hundred-fifty volunteers so far. In the next 18 months, authorities hope to train as many as 500 people for the Community Fire Watch program to patrol the canyons, watching for fire, looking for suspicious activity.

"We kind of watch for cars -- something that doesn't fit. Being a small community we kind of know everybody who's there," said Mary Schreiber, Inter-Canyon League Fire Safe Council.

Wildfires are a real concern when you see how dry the brush is. Officials say 90 percent of the wildfires started in the area since 1900 were started by people, either accidentally or intentionally.

The event to announce the program took place close to where an arsonist started the Santiago wildfire a year ago. Fire destroyed more than a dozen homes and burned nearly 30,000 acres. Since then volunteers have been equipped with radios for better communication as they head out on patrol in pairs.

"Fire Watch will be deployed on days when the wild lands are most at risk for fire, days with high winds, low humidity, and red-flag warnings," said Michael O'Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy executive director.

"We're looking out for each other, looking out for your home and mine," said Fire Watch volunteer Gene Robinson.

The Fire Authority says it's one of their best prevention tools: fire watch volunteers, a highly visible deterrent to would-be arsonists.

 

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