Fire evacuation guidelines
Special to The Union
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Free Defensible Space Training
WHO: Fire Safe Council of Nevada County
WHEN: Monday, Oct. 30, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 31, 8 a.m. to noon.
INFO: Call 530-272-1122 or visit AreYouFireSafe.com.
Marilyn Mociun, who lives on the San Juan Ridge and was evacuated from her 117-acre ranch during the Aug. 30 Pleasant Fire, said being prepared didn’t help.
“I had my horse trailer hooked up, boxes ready to go, the crate for the dog,” Mociun said. “But I wasn’t home when the fire broke out and even though I drove home as fast as I could when I saw the plume of smoke, a deputy was already here saying, ‘This is life threatening. You need to go now!’
“I couldn’t even go inside to get anything. I left the horses in a round pen, grabbed my dog, and drove to a safe place on a hill where I could try to watch what was happening.”
Mociun said fire was burning in trees 100 feet from her house. Thanks to the defensible space her family had diligently created, the house was spared.
“It was horrendous,” she said. “The only thing ‘Pleasant’ about that fire was it didn’t burn our house.”
Because Nevada County is a high fire hazard area, fires and attendant evacuations are going to occur.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when and where,” warned Joanne Drummond, executive director of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County.
Those who lived through the 49er Fire in 1988 — especially those who were evacuated and lost their homes — will always remember the 33,500 acres burned and 312 structures destroyed.
More recent evacuations include the Yuba Fire in 2009, Dog Bar Fire in 2014, Lowell Fire in 2015, and of course the Pleasant Fire last month.
“I think more people are heeding the warnings, but there are still a few diehards who won’t evacuate and others who won’t create defensible space around their properties,” said John Gulserian, program manager for Nevada County’s Office of Emergency Services.
Gulserian encourages everyone to learn what supplies to take during an evacuation and sign up with Nevada County’s Code Red system via a link on his department’s website: MyNevadaCounty.com/1182/Office-of-Emergency-Services.
“Code Red is an emergency mass notification system which will call AT&T customers’ land lines direct and call the cell phones of other folks who register,” Gulserian said. “You can get both voicemail and texts.
“The reason the alerts go to AT&T land lines is because we buy data from AT&T every six months. The Emergency Operations Center gets information from the field, and the Sheriff’s dispatch sends it out.”
Staffed by the Sheriff’s Department, Office of Emergency Services and fire officials, the Emergency Operations Center is initiated at the Rood Center at the first sign of trouble.
Staffers use maps to track the fire and designate evacuation routes. Code Red messages are developed and disseminated, telling recipients that they are being evacuated and where the nearest evacuation shelters are.
Sheriff’s deputies also go door-to-door, broadcast over loudspeakers from vehicles and helicopters, and then work with California Highway Patrol officers to direct evacuees out of the hazard area.
The Code Red system can notify large numbers of people rapidly, which is essential in an emergency.
“When there’s a fire, we want to get out the alerts very quickly,” said Gulserian, “before phone lines go down or cell towers burn up.”
Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said his department “strongly encourages” people to leave during mandatory evacuations.
“Although we encourage folks to leave the area when a mandatory evacuation has been ordered, it’s their choice,” said Royal. “The reality is if I’m spending time arresting you because you refuse to go, it hampers my ability to let alert everyone else.
“You can rebuild your homes, but you can’t rebuild your lives if you die or are seriously injured.”
Gulserian also recommends everyone create a family communications plan that includes an out-of-state contact.
“You put all family members and their phone numbers on a card, plus one person who lives out of state,” said Gulserian, adding that the card can be home-made or a communications planner can be downloaded at Ready.gov.
“If the local phone lines get jammed, everyone can call that out-of-state contact during an evacuation because generally long-distance lines don’t get backed up,” he said. “He or she can let everyone know where all the family members are.”
Gulserian said common sense goes a long way when preparing for emergency evacuations.
“Evacuate early, especially if you know you need more time,” he said. “That includes the disabled, large families with lots of kids or animals. If you need assistance, you should plan ahead with your neighbors to help you get out.
“We can help some folks who need assistance, but we can’t help everybody who calls and needs help getting out.”
The same common sense guidelines apply to evacuations in the Tahoe National Forest, said Public Affairs Officer Michael Woodbridge.
“For small incidents, firefighters will alert people they encounter in the area about the fire and recommend where they can go,” said Woodbridge. “If there are people trapped in a location by a wildfire, firefighters and emergency personnel will lead those people to safety by foot, vehicle or helicopter, depending on the circumstances.”
Forest critters can evacuate themselves, said Woodbridge.
“Animals can usually escape a wildfire or escape injury by burrowing, etc.,” Woodbridge said. “But fires can displace wildlife when they are active, and you may see more deer near town if the surrounding forest is on fire.”
While animals rely on instinct, people should rely on planning.
“We suggest that you find a minimum of two ways out of your house,” said the Fire Safe Council’s Drummond. “Ideally you’d have north, south, east and west exit routes so no matter where the ignition started and which direction the wind was blowing, you’d have a way out.
“Fire is a very fast-moving event. Where’s the ignition and where are you? It’s a total dice roll.”
Mociun, the woman evacuated during the Pleasant Fire, said she never considered fighting the mandatory evacuation order.
“I didn’t want to get in the way,” she said. “I didn’t want to put anyone at risk. I would never put a firefighter in danger because I was being stubborn.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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