Sheriff Don Barnes on Wednesday joined Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) Chief Brian Fennessy and others in a news conference to convey the dangers of dehydration, improper attire and poor planning when people were out enjoying remote wildland areas.
Indoor gyms have been shut during the coronavirus pandemic, causing more people to exercise on the county’s trails, Barnes said. Crowds, combined with excessive heat, have caused a record number of search and rescue calls.
“The resources of both agencies are not limitless,” he warned. “This level of call volume may not be sustainable.”
In 2018, first responders conducted 36 rescues between May and July. Last year, 37 calls were made during the same time period. This year, however, helicopter crews have been called to assist residents 117 times.
“We’ve seen an alarming increase in calls for help from people in remote areas who would not have needed to be rescued by a helicopter if they’d been more prepared,” Barnes said. “Some simply wanted water or didn’t want to walk back from their hike.
OCFA firefighter Dan Dufrene said since crew members are trained to protect lives over property, responding to a rescue call takes precedence over fighting a vegetation fire.
“If you’re unprepared and you’re out, and you didn’t bring appropriate water … and we respond out to you, you could be pulling us away from a vegetation fire that could cause folks to lose their homes,” Dufrene said. “Please understand that your actions could have a larger impact than just yourself.”