Direction needed: Nevada County residents are working to put indicators near hydrants to help firefighters | TheUnion.com

Direction needed: Nevada County residents are working to put indicators near hydrants to help firefighters

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

During the Lobo Fire, fire officials from outside the county needed help.

The problem was simple: they didn’t know the location of fire hydrants in Bitney Springs — the location of the Lobo Fire.

“The trucks pulled up and asked us where the hydrants are,” said Craig Rohrsen, Bitney Springs resident.

People in the area adequately directed fire officials, said Rohrsen, which allowed the firefighters to more quickly fight the wildfire.

Memory of the event recently rooted itself in the minds of Rohrsen and Bitney Springs resident Scott Allen as they prepare for fire season.

Now, Allen and the Bitney Springs community are working to erect clearer signage indicating hydrants on private lands in the area in addition to larger signs for temporary refuge areas. The community leader has been working with Nevada County Sheriff Captain Jeff Pettitt, and hopes to have all the signage in place by August.

The Alta Sierra community has been working on a similar project, raising money to put four-foot reflective markers near public, Nevada Irrigation District hydrants, said Michael Warner, fire safety co-coordinator for the Alta Sierra Property Owners Association. Warner is collaborating with co-coordinator Chris Reilly to institute green signs directing people out of Alta Sierra and to the main roads: Dog Bar Road and Highway 49.

“We want to go from total chaos to controlled chaos,” said Warner, who hopes to add green and red lights to the 44 “Way Finder” signs that flash when a route is open or closed during a wildfire evacuation.

“Basically (residents) will have the evacuation routes without knowing that it’s the evacuation routes,” said Warner.

The project will cost $22,500 and an additional $5,000 for the hydrant markers for hundreds of hydrants in the community, said the co-coordinator. Warner is working with the public works department to institute the signage by September.

PUBLIC OFFICIAL PERSPECTIVE

Residences are allowed to help mark fire hydrants, said Trisha Tillotson, director of Nevada County Public Works, but it’s ultimately the responsibility of the water agency and fire departments to install the signage.

Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Fire Marshal Terry McMahan agreed.

“If (residents) want to put them on fire hydrants we’d be happy to help with that,” he said, adding that water tanks already have signs.

But marking hydrants wasn’t the only issue concerning Allen and the Bitney Springs community. They also wanted to understand how county hydrants are mapped, and who has access to such information.

Allen found that the Nevada Irrigation District maps out fire hydrants, maintains them, and distributes the hydrant map through the Graphical Information System to public officials throughout the county, according to Gary King, engineer manager for the district.

“It’s a whole water system,” said King, which includes information about hydrants and other waterway information related to public safety. Due to these safety concerns, he added, the map is not shared with private citizens.

Outside fire agencies don’t automatically have access to the map, said King, but they can request the data from the Office of Emergency Services to uncover where hydrants are in Nevada, Placer and Sierra Counties.

McMahan said it would be too hard relinquish this data without specific requesting.

“It would be too difficult because there are many different response programs out there,” he said.

Due to the scope and unpredictability of wildfires, McMahan wants residents to be aware of the location of hydrants.

“We encourage people to know your hydrants in your area and kind of take care of those,” he said.

GOOD STEWARDS

Scott Allen and residents of Bitney Springs and Alta Sierra are trying to heed McMahan’s call to action.

They want to make fire hydrants more accessible, especially to non-county fire agencies looking for the water source in the dark with smoke billowing around them.

“Whatever we can do to help the firefighters,” said Allen, who plans to mark the roads near hydrants with tile and fiberglass stakes, similar to that of Alta Sierra.

“I think it’s an issue that needs a lot more coverage and work,” he said.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.


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