Orange County Fire Authority – World Series Champions!


Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Photo courtesy Landon Jensen.

October 26th 20020 – waking up to the sound of the Santa Ana Winds rustling through the trees. Always up early, getting ready for that morning walk.  Another beautiful day in Orange County. Out the door – I immediately had a bad feeling. Every block walked; the wind seemed to increase in strength. Debris blowing, instability from the wind, streetlights flickering. Never have I seen wind gusts like this, especially in the OC.

Growing up as a little boy I loved that sound. Living in Southern California all my life, it was a sense of peace to me.  Warm, dry air blowing the leaves off the trees on to lawns and streets. You could see for miles. It also signified Fall was here and the Holiday season around the corner.

No longer a little boy (well, scratch that) but more of a “mature” older Fire Chief, you wake up this time of year and hear the trees rustling. No longer the childhood sense of peace. Concerns takes over. What is the wind speed and direction, relative humidity, fuel moisture content, adequate staffing? So much goes through your mind. You pick up your cell phone to see if/what community may be burning. Immediately you have messages from your communications center, command staff and city leaders. It is going to be a long week!

Just before 7:00 am I heard that a fire developed in the Silverado Canyon area. I am familiar with the area and the fuels. With these winds, I knew the fire would move at a rapid rate of spread. This is now the Silverado incident.

Watching the fire burn through vegetation and neighborhoods quickly. Winds blowing around 50 mph with stronger gusts.  Burning from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city. Paradise, Santa Rosa, all the northern California communities devastated in recent years crossed my mind. Could this be Orange Counties time?

As the day continues, complicating matters was the grounding of air resources. The winds were too strong. One of our biggest assets during wildfires are now lost – air support. The fire continues to grow and grow.

By 1:00 pm another fire just north of the Silverado Fire erupted in Yorba Linda. This was now the Blue Ridge incident. Two significant fires under extreme fire conditions burning closely, taxing resources. Relentless winds continue to increase hour by hour. The firefight, structure protection, evacuations continue. This was a tough battle for the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Adding to the chaos, two Orange County Firefighters now severely injured. The firefighters, age 26 and 31, were both intubated after suffering second- and third-degree burns over 50 percent and 65 percent of their bodies. Concern spreads to fellow firefighters working the fire. You must stay focused and continue the firefight (please keep these firefighters in your thoughts and prayers).

Now – today, 10/30/2020 The forward progress of both fires has stopped. Containment and mop up efforts are underway and will be for some time.

I recently wrote an article on “What it Takes to Be a World Series Department.”

This same week, the Dodgers won the World Series. Congratulations to them! But the Orange County Fire Authority are also the champions this week. A fire burning with such fierce winds in highly populated areas, single digit relative humidity, bone dry fuel moisture content, aircraft grounded, and personnel injured. This was a tough one!

Like so many fires over the several years, this fire could have been one that decimates a community. Living in Orange County I see the Orange County Fire Authority and the communities they serve do a great job with pre fire mitigation efforts, public information & preparedness programs along with community risk reduction programs.

During the fire constant updates were provided to the citizens on the fires progress, mandatory evacuations along with evacuation locations were constantly provided by the City of Irvine, along with the OCFA to over 100,000+ residents.

Like any winning organization, good leadership, dedicated members, training, effective policies, planning with strategies, cooperation from other entities and community members, but  mostly the desire to be the best is what it takes.

With the most severe fire conditions and erratic behavior, all OCFA efforts paid off. Along with the mutual aid agencies, law enforcement and well-prepared communities keeping the damage to only one home destroyed and seven damaged, no loss of life.

Fire Chief Brian Fennessy and the members of the OCFA, job well done – you are a winning organization!

Get ready, Santa Ana Winds are in the forecast this weekend!

About Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. In addition, he is a regular contributor to NBC News 4 Los Angeles.  Sam also serves as Executive Vice President of Fire Operations at CORDICO INC.