Protecting Communities From Wildfires With Data, Devotion
After experiencing a devastating wildfire, the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council is on a mission to make their coast more resilient with grant funding from Edison International.
For a team of volunteers, a morning walk through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is no leisurely stroll. Twice a month, they make their way through the coastal terrain with a clear purpose: decipher signs of fire danger, invisible to the untrained eye.
“What we do is take live leaves, literally, just live leaves from plants,” said David Horne, founder and director of the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council. “Through the different processes, we determine what their fuel moisture content is.”
Analyzing the moisture content in live plant specimens is a critical first step in understanding how susceptible the land is to wildfire in a specific area, at a given time. The data informs the Santa Ana Wind Threat Index, a predictive model used by fire agencies to determine the wildfire threat level across Southern California. Gathering samples and compiling this data is one of the many contributions the volunteers make as part of the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council.
“It’s a community-based group of people that really want to make the community more fire safe,” said Horne. “It’s not an individual thing, it’s about making the whole community fire safe.”
The fire safe council was established as a direct result of the Laguna Beach Fire on Oct. 27, 1993, one of the most devasting firestorms in Orange County history. Despite the losses, the Laguna Beach community did not lose its resiliency. Together, residents stepped in to navigate their new landscape of debris cleanup, insurance claims — and prevention.
“I love Laguna Beach, I absolutely love the city that I live in,” said Judy Flanders, who has volunteered with the local fire safe council since its inception. “It’s so beautiful here and I want to protect the area, more so now than ever. I just want people to be safe.”
Twenty-eight years later, the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council has assumed increasing responsibilities, including leading the “fire watch” patrols to watch for suspicious or risky activities along the Laguna Coast.
“What they do is critical for us and they do so many things,” said Mike Garcia, chief of the Laguna Beach Fire Department. “It’s wonderful to have community members volunteer like they do to help protect their community, their neighbors, their friends and help us be better and do better in our jobs.”
After being approached by the Laguna Beach Fire Department, the local fire safe council began collecting the Santa Ana Wind Threat Index data and are now the sole contributors of the Orange County Coastal Weather Zone. Additionally, the data helps the National Weather Service issue Red Flag Warnings, when necessary.
“In a broader context, what the fire safe council is doing with their fuels program is filling a gap in live fuel moisture collection data,” said Troy Whitman, senior advisor of fire management at Southern California Edison. “That gap informs local, state and federal agencies in our region on their preparedness levels; they really use that data to preposition resources and prevent catastrophic fires.”
Edison International provided the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council with a $14,000 grant that went toward the purchase of a new, state-of-the-art Computrac MAX-4000 machine. Because of its efficiency, the fire safe council has increased its data collection from once to twice a month, providing even more accurate indicators of wildfire threats.
"In a broader context, what the fire safe council is doing with their fuels program is filling a gap in live fuel moisture collection data. That gap informs local, state and federal agencies in our region on their preparedness levels; they really use that data to preposition resources and prevent catastrophic fires.”
Troy Whitman, SCE Senior Advisor
Additionally, a second Edison International grant will help the fire safe council double the number of emergency evacuation kits they provide to residents, in partnership with the Laguna Beach Community Emergency Response Team.
“That’s what [community groups] do and it’s all about taking care of each other and making our home and city a safer place to live,” said Sonny Myers, director of the Laguna Beach Community Emergency Response Team and Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council volunteer.
For more information and to volunteer with the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council, contact: email@example.com.
Laguna Beach residents may request an emergency evacuation kit by contacting: LagunaCERT@gmail.com.
PHOTO CREDITS: COURTESY OF DAVID HORNE