Andy Ortega

Interim Executive Director


Retired Assistant Chief from the Ventura County Fire Department

Andy served for 37 years with the Ventura County Fire Department. He grew up a son to a Ventura County firefighter, followed his fathers vocational footsteps and worked up through the ranks. Andy retired from the Department as the Assistant Fire Chief of Emergency Services in February of 2017. December 5 of 2017, Andy and his wife lost their home during the Thomas Fire. While the loss was devastating and heartbreaking, they started the long road of recovery and rebuilding. For the next several years they focused on getting back home.

Andy joined the Fire Safe Council in 2021, and he continues his career as a consultant and trainer instructing incident command and management courses. Andy joined the Fire Safe Council because of his commitment to the mission of the Fire Safe Council.  He has experienced the effects and impact of wildfires, both as a professional firefighter and a victim of fire loss. Andy sees that protection from wildfires must include combined awareness and efforts of homeowners, neighbors, communities and the fire service. The Fire Safe Council is committed to work that is necessary and important. He believes in the goal to bringing partners together for the safety and greater good of our communities.

“As a retired Assistant Fire Chief with the Ventura County Fire Department, I am proud and humbled to be part of an organization that is growing and has worked so hard to address the very real threat that wildfires present to our communities. As I look ahead to the future, I’m excited to be a part of the mission of the VRFSC. Additionally, I’m encouraged as we move forward and expand fire safety training, awareness and services; as we provide our local communities in areas of fire prevention, property preparedness, fire safety education and support to partner agencies.”

“We may not stop the large fires from coming, but we certainly can do a better job of preparing our people to be safe and protect their homes before the smoke is in the air” -Andy Ortega

Stephen Watson

Director of Operations


Stephen joined our team in July 2021, and he has already made such an impact getting our organization into shape. He’s very eager to restructure and reorganize the grant management, financial, and administrative aspects of the fire safe council.

Although Stephen is new to our organization, he is no stranger to nonprofit work. He worked as a Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee at a nonprofit in Van Nuys for over 3 years while getting his masters in Psychology and Counseling. After working as a therapist for many years, Stephen then went on to being an office manager at a therapy center for troubled teens. He even aided in the creation of a new nonprofit community mental health center that provided low cost therapy for teens and families who couldn’t otherwise afford it. In addition, he served as the Secretary and Treasurer at this nonprofit for over 2 years. It was during this time that he realized he had a passion for working behind-the-scenes in the more administrative roles.

Although you may not see him as much out and about in the community, he is a vital part in our organization. We feel so fortunate to have him on our team, and we are confident that he will help us immensely in making our workflow processes more efficient so we can continue to serve and expand the amount of people we can reach through our programming.

Sarah Wortman

Administrative Assistant


Sarah joined the VRFSC team in February 2022 as our Administrative Assistant. Sarah graduated from CSU Channel Islands with a Bachelors in Environmental Science and Resource Management in 2020. She brings with her an extensive background in environmental science as well as customer service. She has found her place here with VRFSC assisting the office with the fundamental day-to-day operations of our organization. She is excited to bring her personal experiences and enthusiasm to the team to support and ensure the efficient operation of VRFSC. 

Max Young

Lead Wildfire Safety Liaison


We are so excited to introduce our new Lead Wildfire Safety Liaison, Max Young! Max came to the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council wanting to combine the passions developed as a Consulting Utility Forester, working in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties as a Southern California Edison contractor, and as a Conservationist 1 at the Camarillo Fire Center for the California Conservation Corps. There he became certified through CalFire to work wildfires locally, and throughout the state, on a Type 1 Handcrew. The experience led him towards wanting to help develop community resiliency to wildfires, and educating the public on how we can and need to adapt to living with them. 

He has a passion for resource conservation, land management and studied Environmental Science within the College of Agriculture at the University of Nevada, Reno. A native Californian, Max has lived, worked and studied in many different areas of the State, but holds a special relationship with Ventura and its many wonderful communities. 

You may see Max running Ventura’s beautiful trails on the weekends, or surfing its world class breaks.

Mayra De Leon

Wildfire Safety Liaison


Mayra De Leon has worked in the nonprofit sector for over a decade. In that time, she developed a grant-funded program for underrepresented communities at the Ventura Family YMCA, organized continuing education events for the regional branch of the California Dental Association, and managed engagement and marketing for the California State University’s Santa Rosa Island Research Station. 

Mayra earned her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Communications from California State University Channel Islands and is excited to be putting her skill sets into action for VRFSC.

Pepper Dee

Projects and Grants Manager


Pepper joined the Fire Safe Council in February 2022, and is thrilled to participate in the project of making Ventura County a safer place to live with wildfire. Pepper brings a diverse range of skills to the council, including experience as a public-school teacher, mountain guide, and community organizer. Pepper has a passion for empowering communities to effect positive change, and appreciates the balance between conservation and sustainability.

Pepper holds a B.A. from Amherst College and a M.A. in Education from the University of Colorado-Denver.



Natasha Saxena

Wildfire Safety Liaison


Natasha Saxena is our newest Wildfire Safety Liaison! She studied Environmental Communications and minored in Environmental Science and Resource Management at CSU Channel Islands. With her experience implementing sustainability initiatives and climate action planning at her University, she cultivated a passion for the environmental field. She has worked with certified B corporations and nonprofits, and has developed skills in marketing, facilitation, and event planning.


Most days you can find her cooking up an extremely tasty but overly complicated vegetarian dish or relaxing at the beach.