Unofficial public information officer for East Orange County’s canyon communities, Joanne Hubble helps locals prepare for the anticipated flooding this winter. In the field she helps canyon residents load hay bails and sandbags into truck beds.
“The El Niño has been proven to be strong this year and with this information few residents have neglected to take a stand to protect their homes,” Hubble said.
Although, Hubble, who is a 37-year veteran to the canyon, does not take anything lightly when it comes to her home. After fires decimated 28,517 acres in the canyons, Hubble took it upon herself to ensure canyon residents’ safety and organized home and property defense strategies.
Recently Hubble landed herself in the hospital with multiple fractures to her pelvis while riding her horse in Modjeska creek, but she does not let that get in her way. With her cellphone ringing just about every 20 minutes, she juggles email, text, phone, and two-way mobile radio. Her email blast is so immense with more than 1,600 recipients that she needs a commercial-level account. Hubble is always on the go, meeting residents at all times of the day at “the lot,” where the hay bails and sandbags are kept.
“During any fire there is nothing more stressful than not knowing if you have lost your home,” said Hubble, speaking about her motivation. “It is a helpless and horrible feeling.”
Over the last eight years, residents have relied on Hubble for current and accurate information. From Holy Jim Canyon to Black Star Canyon, the thousands of residents depend on Hubble’s emails to keep them up to date. Hubble sends emails concerning any traffic accidents that might be blocking the road to extended weather reports.
Hubble is also in weekly contact with Alex Tardy, a warning coordination meteorologist. His data confirms that this year’s El Niño will be the strongest in temperature and size. This does not mean that Orange County will have a busy rain season, but it could see rains unseen in decades.
Tardy reports storms might be showing as early as the end of October. The majority, however, will be in December to early January, with the possibility of lasting through March. Over time, these storms have had huge impact, especially in burn areas such as those in the canyons. Because of these potential impacts, Hubble coordinates with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Orange County Public Works, Orange County Fire Authority, and other critical response agencies.
Hubble, now the go-to person for any information, is still distraught over damage from the 2007 fires. Residents were evacuated, some for more than a month. After the fires came a down pour of rain. The amount of rain kept residents out even longer, and since there was nothing on the hillsides to help absorb the water, it just came crashing through homes.
“On December 23, 2010,” said Hubble, a date ingrained in her memory, “all hell broke loose.”
Hubble pointed to dry a creek bed and then glanced up to the top of Saddleback Mountain, which received over 22 inches of rain. Runoff came down the side so fast that they were not sure what to do.
“If we get hit like we did in 2010, then we’re in for it,” Hubble said.
As Hubble helps pass out hay bails and sandbags, it is obvious how thankful people are just by the look on their faces. It is almost an expression of relief, portraying that their families are going to be OK.
Hubble does not do the type of work she does for all the praise and gratitude she receives; she does it because this community has become a part of her family. The canyon residents get in a line to give Hubble a hug expressing their sincere acknowledgement and recognition.
“We live together, we love together, and we laugh together,” said Hubble. “And when something happens, we fight together.”
This is the kind of spirit and hope that will help all of the canyon residents fight through the storms. From the sandy beaches of California’s coast to its highest mountaintops, this community will fight through any weather that comes their way.