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Orange County debuts fire-watch program

November 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
After a difficult fire season, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is looking ahead. Thursday the board announced a new fire watch program. They plan to include a volunteer force to keep an eye on things during red flag conditions.Memories loom large for firefighters and homeowners. The Santiago Fire was the worst in Orange County history. Then came the Freeway Complex Fire.

"If you have seen that monster, it is ugly and it is scary," said Mary Schrieber while on fire watch patrol. "And you do not battle a fire with a garden hose."

Shrieber and other proactive neighbors have long patrolled high-risk canyon areas. Now the Orange County Fire Authority is reaching out for more volunteers to cover more territory.

"We don't have the resources out there on a regular basis to be able to patrol the hiking trails and the parks and different open spaces that may create a major problem should a fire start there," said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Keith Richter.

The goal is to train 100 volunteers for park areas, passing on techniques practiced by the fire-watch leagues.

"We've seen persons lighting cigarettes when the wind is blowing, we've encountered downed electrical wires," said Gene Robinson while on fire watch patrol.

One volunteer leader posted a notice for her neighbors on high-danger days.

"They know that my group of 30 people are on patrol," said Sharon Stancato while on fire watch patrol.

Going one step further, fire officials will fly a red flag when winds hit 25 mph and humidity drops to 15 percent.

Typically the volunteer groups scattered around the county have had to guess when conditions were severe enough to launch patrols. Now with these red flags raised in front of all the public buildings, they will know.

"That is really the key to this program is trying to raise people's awareness and increase their participation in preventing fires," said Chief Richter.

It takes a team, says Shrieber, to guard communities from disaster.

"I never, ever want to see it again," said Shrieber. "I have seen it up close and personal and I never want to see it again."


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