OC Fire Watch

OC Parks Rangers in front of an OCFA fire truck with Fire Alert flag.

OC Fire Watch – An Opportunity to Volunteer

If you are interested in volunteering for OC Fire Watch, or would like additional information, please contact:

Volunteer Services Coordinator Matthew Le, (714) 566-3067 or

Supervising Park Ranger Kevin McKeown, (714) 973-6843

What is OC Fire Watch?

OC Fire Watch is a team of dedicated volunteers devoted to standing watch over Orange County wilderness parks and open lands during hazardous fire weather and Red Flag Alerts and Warnings. These volunteers receive basic training in fire behavior, observation methods and techniques, map reading, and fire response systems. Although not trained as firefighters and not allowed to engage in any firefighting, OC Fire Watch volunteers individually staff one of many pre-designated stationary post assignments, highly visible to the public, and provide another set of eyes to watch for signs of developing wild fires. They also greet the public enjoying the vast open lands and spaces of OC Parks, and educate them on the dangers of and how to prevent destructive wildfires.

OC Fire Watch was created in 2009 through the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the Orange County Fire Authority. Private and public organizations involved with the management of lands susceptible to wild land fires were solicited and encouraged to participate this valuable program. Currently, there are a number of Fire Watch volunteer organizations throughout Orange County, each responsible for their own operational areas of open space and lands susceptible to wild fires. The Orange County Fire Authority remains as the lead agency, and notifies each of these Fire Watch organizations whenever hazardous fire weather is predicted, including Red Flag Warnings. Fire Stations, parks, and government buildings are then requested to fly or display their Fire Alert flag to alert the public to the current hazardous fire conditions. Although the Orange County Fire Authority has the responsibility for making the appropriate notifications, each individual Fire Watch organization maintains total operational control of their group of volunteers and their program.

When do you activate your Fire Watch Volunteers?

Historical data related to wild land fires clearly shows that Southern California wildfires are more likely to occur and more likely to spread when strong winds are accompanied by low humidity levels and high temperatures. If wind speeds exceed 15 mph, and humidity levels dip into the single digits, this dangerous combination will prompt an official readiness response called the Red Flag program

A Fire Weather Watch will be declared by the National Weather Service’s Fire Weather Forecast Center. A Fire Weather Watch means that Red Flag conditions may be approaching and to prepare for the possibility of a Red Flag Warning. During a Red Flag Warning, OC Fire Watch volunteers are deployed and Fire Alert flags are flown or displayed at all OC Parks facilities, and all Orange County Fire Authority Fire stations.

How will OC Fire Watch Aid in Fire Safe Behavior in Our Local Wilderness areas and Communities?

OC Fire Watch will create community awareness by providing a visible and approachable representative monitoring our open lands susceptible to wildfires. Prominently displaying Fire Alert flags at all OC Parks and OC Fire Authority fire stations serves as a reminder to every one of the heightened level of fire danger, and to be extra vigilant during these extreme fire weather conditions. OC Fire Watch will also engage in community outreach through public service announcements, media outreach, partnerships, and material development to raise the level of awareness of the dangers of wildfires and preventive measures that can be taken.

Where Will OC Fire Watch Be Headquartered and What Geographical Areas Will The Program Cover?

OC Parks owns and manages nearly 60,000 acres of parks, historical and coastal facilities and open space for the County of Orange as part of OC Community Resources. The OC Fire Watch Program will be administered through the OC Parks Adopt-A-Park Program and will be headquartered at OC Community Resources Headquarters in Santa Ana, California. The geographical areas covered by the program will include Orange County Wilderness and Regional Parks, identified as having the most risk for wildfires. These parks include Aliso and Wood Canyon, Caspers, Laguna Coast, O’Neill, Riley, Limestone Canyon and Whiting Ranch, Irvine, Peters, Yorba, and Carbon Canyon.

Program Design 

The OC Fire Watch Program is designed to complement the current public awareness programs and the firefighting professionals with the goal of providing a highly visible reminder to all persons in the region to be extra careful and vigilant during Fire Alert events. The program will be managed by OC Community Resources/OC Parks staff and volunteers from within the community. These community members will be deployed to stationary observation posts within OC Parks to watch for fires and/or suspicious activity. Simultaneously, OC Parks, OC Public Libraries, other designated County facilities, participating cities, The Toll Roads, and all Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) fire stations will be alerted to display their Fire Alert flags. In a typical year, it is common to have three to five Red Flag Alerts.

Notification Procedures

The National Weather Service initiates the Red Flag Warning process by alerting fire officials to weather condition changes over parts of the Western plains that could bring high winds and low humidity over our region. OCFA reviews this information, and if warranted, will notify Fire Watch Program coordinators in Orange County of the impending Fire Weather Watch, and potential for a Red Flag Warning. The Fire Watch Program coordinators will in turn notify their volunteers of the weather conditions, and if necessary initiate a deployment of their volunteers.

Volunteers

OC Fire Watch volunteers are recruited throughout Orange County through the use of news stories, advertisements, community organizations, and from other Fire Watch volunteers themselves. Volunteers can express their willingness to participate by requesting and completing an OC Fire Watch volunteer application. Groups that may be interested in participating include hikers, mountain bikers, equestrian groups, docents, and amateur radio (ham) operators. Recruiting volunteers is done through ReadyOC, participating City Websites, the County of Orange website, Orange County volunteer database, and the OC Adopt-A-Park website. Volunteers use their own personal vehicles and provide their own cell phones and binoculars. All volunteers must attend an orientation meeting and one training session which takes approximately four hours. All OC Fire Watch volunteers must satisfactorily submit to and pass a background investigation to the satisfaction of OCCR Volunteer Services and OC Parks Adopt-A-Park Program.

Amateur Radio (Ham) Operators and OC Fire Watch

Ham radio operators add an important and fun component to OC Fire Watch. They provide a means of radio communications between other Fire Watch members who are licensed operators, and also critical communications with OC Fire Watch coordinators (who are also ham radio operators). It is not a requirement to be a ham radio operator to be a member of OC Fire Watch. If interested, there will be ongoing opportunities to become a licensed amateur radio operator while being a member of OC Fire Watch.

Volunteer Training

The initial orientation meeting will be provided by the OC Parks Volunteer Coordinator and the training session will be provided by OC Parks rangers. The two sessions will last approximately two hours each. Among the areas covered will be safety, communications procedures, map reading, and how to recognize and report potentially dangerous situations.

After completing the training, each volunteer may be issued the following items: tan t-shirts with the OC Fire Watch logo, ball caps with logos, photo ID card with neck lanyard, Fire Watch vests, Fire Watch car magnets, Fire Watch manuals, and ready bags to hold your supplies.

Patrol Routes and Shifts

OC Fire Watch does not participate in any roving patrols, or driving routes. During a Fire Watch deployment, volunteers may select one of over 25 pre-established stationary observation posts, located throughout eleven participating OC Parks facilities.

Shifts can vary from three to up to eight hours per deployment, dependent on the duration of the expected Red Flag event. Typical shifts are:  7 a.m. to 10 a.m. 10 a.m.  – 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Shift times can vary depending on time of the year (PDT or Daylight Saving Time), number of available volunteers, and nature of the actual alert or warning. Although volunteers can serve more or less time during their deployments, the volunteer services coordinator will always attempt to provide the best coverage throughout the various parks as possible. When possible, each manned stationary post is staffed with at least two OC Fire Watch volunteers.