Preparing for wildfires is a must for Irvine residents
The Tubbs Fire last year in Sonoma County killed 22 and destroyed more than 5,000 structures, making it the most-destructive wildfire in California history. The Thomas Fire, also last year, burned nearly 282,000 acres across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, making it California’s largest wildfire ever, and was followed by deadly mudslides in Montecito a month later.
This summer the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park has already burned more than 33,000 acres. At press time, more than 3,000 firefighters from as far away as Virginia are fighting the blaze, including one who died.
While Irvine hasn’t been impacted directly, we have had Orange County fires come close enough to cause alarm.
Last year’s Canyon 2 Fire in mountains north of Irvine burned 9,200 acres and destroyed a dozen homes east of Orange. Beckman High School in Irvine was closed, and many Irvine residents watched the fire’s progress into Peters Canyon Regional Park and toward the 241 Toll Road with deep concern. The Aliso Viejo fire burned 175 acres in Wood Canyon this past June, with the smell of smoke putting Irvine residents on high alert.
Those pale in comparison to the worst fire in the memory of those who lived in the area 25 years ago: the Laguna Beach Fire in 1993, which advanced relentlessly across 16,000 acres in and around what is now Laguna Wilderness/Irvine Conservancy land before it destroyed or damaged 400 homes causing $528 million in damages. No Irvine homes were damaged or destroyed in that fire, but back in 1993 Turtle Ridge, Quail Hill and Shady Canyon did not exist. The fire burned in or near land where those neighborhoods now are.
A sobering aspect of the Sonoma County fire was how deeply it reached into subdivisions and neighborhoods that were not bordering on canyons, hills and wilderness, where we often think of fire most affecting homeowners. High winds drove hot embers for miles, with fires erupting as embers got under eaves and beneath roofs or by igniting fences and shrubs beside houses, before spreading to the structures.
The takeaway from the past few fire seasons is we all need to be prepared, whether we live next to open space or near the heart of the city. The more informed we all are the more likely we’ll be able to keep our families, neighbors and ourselves safe.
Luckily, Irvine is the safest city in the U.S., not only for low violent crime rates, but also for excellent public safety programs. OCFA opened a new fire station at the Great Park recently. See “News and Notes” for details. The city’s disaster preparedness plans include wildfires, and the city’s website has an abundance of information about all forms of disaster preparedness.
In addition to our public safety professionals, there are volunteers on fire watch in vulnerable areas around the city, especially during hot weather and Santa Ana winds.
Called Orange County Fire Watch, the goal of the program is to reduce wildland fire ignition sources. Fire Watch program volunteers are stationed at high-risk areas of Orange County. They watch for fires, assist with early detection and reporting of ignitions, and report suspicious or dangerous behaviors or activities—people, either through accident, negligence or malice, start some 84 percent of wildfires. The visibility of Fire Watch volunteers is designed to be a deterrent to behavior that, intentionally or unintentionally, could result in wildfire ignitions.
The OC Fire Watch program is sponsored and supported by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, OC Parks, Irvine, Newport Beach, and the Orange County Fire Authority.
One last note: many of us in Irvine have a secret weapon when it comes to fire protection—stucco. Experts recommend the building material as a preventative to the ignition and spread of wildfire. So take that, beige bashers. And let’s all stay safe this season.
Wildfire preparation resources:
Volunteer for OC Fire Watch: letsgooutside.org/activities/fire-watch
Download a copy of Irvine’s emergency management plan here: