Orange County Fire Authority and Sheriff’s Department officials Wednesday asked the public Wednesday to be more prepared when hiking as calls for rescues have soared, taking valuable resources away from battling wildfires throughout the state.
“With gyms closed … many people are recreating outdoors on local hiking trails,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at a news conference Wednesday morning at Fullerton Airport. “While this is a great alternative to stay active. .. the combination of hikers and the excessive heat has led to a record number of search and rescue calls in Orange County.”
The sheriff said the volume of rescue calls “is not sustainable.”
“We’re seeing upward of 225% more calls compared to the previous two years,” he said.
Those calls for help take sheriff’s and fire authority helicopters and search-and-rescue teams away from firefighting, Barnes and OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy said.
In some of the recent calls, hikers “simply wanted water, but they didn’t want to walk back from their hike,” Fennessy said.
“These do not represent genuine emergencies, but if we don’t respond to these requests for help they do become genuine emergencies,” Fennessy said.
Hikers are “tending to underestimate conditions in our environment… and when it gets hot people need more rescues… this takes away from our fire responses,” Fennessy said.
A lot of novice hikers are also realizing they are “not in the physical shape they think they are,” he said.
The chief implored hikers to do more research on hiking before heading out.
Deputy Andrew McMillan, who responds to the rescue calls, said he has seen a “spike” in calls for help over the past four years and emphasized the importance of hydrating before heading out on a hike.
“If you’re on the trail and feeling thirsty, it’s already too late,” McMillan said.
OCFA Capt. Dan Dufrene also stressed the importance of carrying water.
“Jthe other day on the San Juan Trail, three hikers said they were lost and stranded … Turns out all they needed was water… To bring water to a hiker who didn’t prepare is definitely something that could have been avoided.”
McMillan stressed that hikers should wear bright orange or blue colored clothes that are distinct on the trail so rescue workers can more easily spot a distressed hiker.
“Green or brown might not be the best attire, even if you think it looks good,” McMillan said.
He said one person in a group should reserve their phone for emergencies so they don’t burn down the batteries taking photos and posting on social media.
Hikers should also pick a landmark to give to rescue workers in case they get in trouble because it helps them get an idea of where the hikers are located, McMillan said.