Keeping Orange County Safe from Wildfires

Loretta Sanchez

The 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest and most destructive season in the state’s history. This was punctuated by the tragic loss of life in Paradise, CA, where 85 people were killed when a wildfire ripped through this community, destroying homes and devastating lives. Rather than an anomaly, scientists say that the changing climate and weather — coupled with increased development near wild-land vegetation — is making wildfires increasingly likely across the West.

When I look to my community in Orange County, I am concerned. A recent analysis from the The Arizona Republic reflected the significant danger Orange faces. On a scale of 1–5, with the median being 2.08, Orange ranks at 3.21 for wildfire hazard potential. Paradise was 3.81.

Our (in)ability to escape a fire is equally disturbing. In the communities of Serrano Heights, Mabury Ranch, Orange Park Acres, Hidden Hills, Hidden Oaks, Hidden Creek Trail, North Colony, Jamestown, The Reserve, Parkridge, Portofino, Santiago Hill’s 1 East Orange, and Entitled Santiago Hills 2 East Orange, approximately 8,000 people have only one western escape route.

According to this report, it would take approximately four hours to evacuate via this one road. Paradise, with its six evacuation routes, saw 11 people perish in their cars amidst bumper-to-bumper traffic.

While wildfires rage through our state, District Supervisor Don Wagner has done little to properly secure our community from this growing threat. At a recent Fire Prevention workshop sponsored by Wagner, residents were urged to plan their escape route in advance. But what good is an escape route that will be clogged with cars?

We need a universal fire warning system with a message akin to an “Amber Alert” that can message residents in real time of the need to evacuate. Such a system was not in use in Paradise, depriving residents of the critical extra time needed to leave their homes. We need to stop adding new housing developments in these high-risk fire areas where evacuation routes are inadequate. A feud between agencies is blamed for the delayed response to the recent Canyon 2 Fire that destroyed 15 homes and forced the evacuation of 10,000 residents of Anaheim Hills, Orange and North Tustin. We need better communication and coordination between ALL agencies. Finally, we need specific policies in place to support those disproportionately impacted during emergencies of this nature, including the elderly, children and disabled individuals.

As temperatures heat up, wildfires are becoming more commonplace. Reactive, small-scale solutions, such as those proposed by Supervisor Wagner, are not nearly enough — not when our residents’ lives are at stake. We need to approach this safety issue with the seriousness that it requires.

As a 20-year member of Congress who secured funding to fortify the Prado Dam, made our county the only water-secure space in all of California, and worked on transportation and infrastructure projects such as widening the 5, 10, and 405 freeways, I have the experience and know how to protect our community. I’ve been successfully doing it for years, and I hope to continue as your next District 3 Supervisor.

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