Volunteers helping firefighters by monitoring hillsides virtually from home

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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As firefighters battle out-of-control wildfires from the air and on the ground, they're getting some help from volunteers monitoring the hillsides virtually from their homes.

The volunteer program with Orange County Fire Watch has gone virtual - allowing them to help keep an eye on fire dangers from home.

"While we still have some volunteers that deploy out in the field, this allows for our volunteers that need to stay behind a device or need to stay in a location or out of smoke on a day like today, they can monitor these cameras," said Tony Pointer, the fire watch manager who can deploy about 350 volunteers on red flag warning days.

"By keeping an eye out, they're early reporters as well as visual deterrents for some of the accidental and purposeful activities," he said.

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Before the pandemic, they were dispatched to about 36 different locations across Orange County. Now, they're utilizing technology they've had for the past couple of years to meet the needs of volunteers that need to stay put.

"It just sort of played into a good melding, that as more cameras were being added, and having individuals that had devices at home, that could utilize this website, it complimented that well," said Pointer.

The volunteers use a public portal called Alert Wildfire, which uses cameras from different utility companies. It can be pulled up on any device - everything from a large monitor connected to a computer or just a tablet or phone.

How to prepare for a wildfire evacuation

"They scan the horizons similar to the fire lookout towers. They're just doing it from a camera and they're able to report any anomalies that they see in the camera feed," Pointer said.

Orange County Fire Watch is managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in partnership with OC Parks, the cities of Irvine and Newport Beach and the Orange County Fire Authority- all hoping to use this model to prevent disasters they've experienced in the past.

"We took ours to a public interaction level with Fire Watch, but it's also a fairly good copy and a fairly new version of the old lookout towers," he said.

Anyone can view the cameras at alertwildfire.org.

App users: For a better experience, click here to view the full map in a new window

For the latest updates and resources on the wildfires, visit abc7.com/wildfires.