Emergency exit | TheUnion.com

Emergency exit

There is no set evacuation plan for western Nevada County in the event of a major wildland blaze like the Waterfall Fire that has blackened homes and displaced hundreds of residents within sight of the Nevada state Capitol in Carson City.

“It’s a case-by-case scenario” for fire evacuation here, according to Nevada County Undersheriff John Trauner.

The county has good, major highways leading out to the north, south, east and west, Trauner said, with plenty of alternate routes. The key is getting new and even long-term residents to know where local roads are and where they go.

“We find people become patterned,” Trauner said. “They go to town one way.”

To find alternate escape routes, “people need to explore the county,” Trauner said, to find those roads and safe zones where they might be able to wait out a fire, like a lake or large meadow.

After an evacuation is deemed necessary, the Grass Valley Emergency Command Center contacts law enforcement and radio stations, according to Capt. Tom Hostetter, who works there for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Local law enforcement has auto-dial machines that would dial and warn affected fire area residents, Hostetter said. Officers might also go door-to-door to warn people.

“The biggest thing about evacuations is don’t wait,” Hostetter said. “Leave early.”

Chief Tim Fike of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire Department could not agree more. At the Big Bear Fire in the southern Sierra he was called to in March, “people waited a little too long,” and created gridlock on three roads leading out.

Fike said people get in trouble when “they realize the intensity of the fire too late and they got cut off.”

He said a woman died in a Butte County fire several years ago because she did not leave her home quickly enough. She was found in a vehicle the end of her driveway where she had driven into a ditch, apparently because heavy smoke obscured her view.

“People need to understand we have the potential to require a pretty large-scale evacuation here,” Fike said. “The north wind conditions in a September fire could cause the evacuation of hundreds or thousands.”

If a large fire occurs here, “It’s most critical to listen to what the radio is saying and what law enforcement tells you,” Fike said. “Obey those roadblocks; we’re trying to keep people alive.”

For instance, it would not help to have people driving down Bitney Springs Road toward a blaze if fire engines were trying to park, hoses were in the roadway and embers were flying, Fike said.

During the 49er Fire, which blackened 33,000 acres and destroyed 140 homes from the San Juan Ridge almost all the way to Beale Air Force Base in 1988, “the evacuations were difficult because of the narrow roads,” Hostetter said.

People were trying to escape on the same roads fire engines were trying to get in on, he said.

Hostetter said residents might want to prepare for an evacuation by making boards to cover air vents inside buildings. They also should create defensible space around the home without dry vegetation, he said.

He said that if there is a large fire, people should not call 911, fire departments or the command center. Turn on TV and radio for information, or visit http://www.theunion.com on the Web.

When there is an evacuation, he said, people need to pack up, go right away and leave a porch light on to let firefighters know where homes are.

Fire evacuation information

– Listen to local radio, TV and visit The Union’s Web site at http://www.theunion.com for information.

– Leave quickly, taking only what you need, such as your wallet or purse with cash, credit cards and prescription pills. Forget the boat.

– Once on the road, listen to law enforcement directives and obey roadblocks.

– Drive away from the fire and think about alternate routes. Don’t drive into smoke.

– Wear protective clothing – sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. Bring a handkerchief to protect your face.

– Lock your home. Tell someone when you left and where you are going.

– Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Ensure that driveway entrances are clearly marked.

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