O.C. remote-area rescue calls up 225%; crews urge caution to save resources amid fire season

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Reporting an enormous increase of rescue calls from remote areas in recent months, Orange County officials on Wednesday urged hikers to take extra precautions in an effort to save resources during the fire season.

The Orange County Fire Authority and the Sheriff’s Department responded to 117 remote-area incidents from May to July, a 225% jump compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019.

“[Some] would not have needed to be rescued by a helicopter if they’d been more prepared,” said OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy at a news conference at Fullerton Airport. “Some simply wanted water, or they didn’t want to walk back from their hike.”

Three hikers at the San Juan Trail recently called for help, saying they were stranded. It turned out they just needed water, OCFA Capt. Dan Dufrene said.

Authorities believe gym closures during the pandemic may be prompting more people to head outdoors, and many of them are underestimating the heat.

Officials expect even hotter conditions in the coming months, as well as Santa Ana wind events, which mean a higher risk of wildfires.

“We have a system in place to ensure that someone will always be available to come to your aid. That said, the resources of both agencies are not limitless,” O.C. Sheriff Don Barnes said of his department and the Fire Authority.

Officials reassured the public that crews “will always put life before property,” but asked people to do their best to avoid putting themselves in danger. Officials also underscored that unnecessary rescues also put crews in danger.

They did not discourage people from going outside.

“Have fun, but be prepared,” the OCFA chief said.

The officials shared the following tips for hikers:

• To ensure hydration, start drinking water 12 to 24 hours hiking. “If you think it’s enough, it’s probably not enough. Drink more,” said Deputy Sheriff Drew McMillan, who has worked as a paramedic and as a tactical flight officer.
• Wear bright clothing in case of a rescue.
• Tell someone of your hiking plans and the time you expect on returning.
• If hiking with others, designate one fully charged cellphone for emergencies only.
• Remember landmarks such as water towers or trail markings.

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