Keeping watch for fires in South Orange County

Audubon Starr Ranch is partnering with others to ensure that searing heat in Southern California doesn't lead to disaster.

A few of the terrific fire watch volunteers that keep an eye out over South Orange County during Red Flag warning. Photo: Sandy DeSimone

Once again it’s hot in Southern California and the Santa Ana winds are picking up. And that means that the Red Flag warnings are up, signaling greater danger of intense fires. While we have long understood wildfires to be generally good for ecosystem renewal, the sorts of intense fires that California has seen recently can be devastating to habitat – needless to say devastating to communities.

The fall months in Southern California are hot and dry, coming as they do at the end of the six-month-long dry season which typifies Mediterranean climate regions. But with climate change, fire danger is elevated in the fall under higher temperatures and drier vegetation.

In Southern California we are accustomed to Red Flag warnings that alert us to the possibility of wind driven fire during Santa Ana winds. These winds originate in the Great Basin Mountains and, particularly in fall and early winter, come rushing down the mountains where air pressure is high to inland Southern California if the air pressure is relatively lower there. The winds heat as they rush down the mountains and bring that heat to Southern California where they fuel our worst catastrophic fires.

Audubon Starr Ranch partnered with Rancho Mission Viejo Land Trust in 2009 to recruit volunteers as fire watchers who stand at the edges of our preserves during Red Flag warnings and serve as lookouts and deterrents. A battalion chief from the Orange County Fire Authority trains new volunteers every year and we now have a group of about ninety dedicated people who stand at their lookout locations for four-hour shifts during high winds and high heat to keep South Orange County residents and wildlands safe.

Starr Ranch thanks our brave and tough volunteers. And we are ever so grateful and awed by our Orange County Fire Authority firefighters. The South Orange County battalions helped fight the fires in Napa, and just finished at the Canyon2 fire in north Orange County, the biggest fire to hit Orange County in nearly a decade, and which forced several thousand people to evacuate dozens of neighborhoods in Anaheim, Orange and Tustin. Fire watch volunteers and firefighters, you guys are our heroes. Thanks to all. 

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