Multi-agency drill simulates wildfire scenario at Lake of the Pines | TheUnion.com

Multi-agency drill simulates wildfire scenario at Lake of the Pines

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Firefighters working to ready Nevada County for a destructive wildfire along the lines of last year’s Camp Fire in Paradise often say “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”

So it’s no surprise that 13 fire departments from Ophir Hill to North San Juan — along with law enforcement officers from the California Highway Patrol, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and Grass Valley Police, as well as Search and Rescue and ambulance services — were willing to put the time and energy into a day-long “wildland urban interface” drill in Lake of the Pines and DarkHorse Sunday. And so were scores of residents, who volunteered to be evacuated, have their houses hosed down and even play the parts of “victims” in accidents designed to test the system during an emergency such as a fire.

It was a sunny and serene Sunday morning in real life at Lake of the Pines. But in drill life, it was Day 3 of a wildland fire that was “just barely” contained at Magnolia and Combie roads, but which was threatening the perimeter of the gated community.

Before a CodeRed alert went out, there already was an “accident” just down the road from the clubhouse. Lisa and Steve Bock had “crashed” their Lexus SUV into a power pole after — according to Steve — swerving to avoid a deer. A possibly live wire was draped across the top of the Lexus and the Bocks were instructed to remain inside the SUV until PG&E could be dispatched.

“We have been working on being prepared as a community,” Steve Bock said as he waited for rescue. “This gives the firemen an opportunity to train in different situations.”

CHP spokesman Mike Steele said scenarios like the one involving the Bocks are “designed to see what we would do in the middle of an evacuation scenario, if we had a medical emergency.”

The multi-agency drill hosted by Cal Fire’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit was put together to train firefighters on structure defense tactics including home preparation, hose deployment and crew life safety measures, as well as on road closures and evacuations.

As Peardale-Chicago Park firefighter Daniel Ramey noted, the twisty loops of many Nevada County communities can be confusing even under the best-case scenario. Add in less than favorable conditions and response times get exponentially longer.

“This is the reason we practice,” Ramey said. “As much as we’re local, the road systems in these communities can be difficult to navigate.”

During the drill, firefighters practiced evaluating residences using wildland urban interface placards that help them outline ease of access, amount of defensible space, water source and remaining occupants. If there is time, that preliminary triage of what houses can be saved will help strike teams move more quickly and efficiently, Ramey said.

Search and Rescue volunteers worked alongside Sheriff’s deputies to conduct “evacuations,” going door to door on some blocks to check in with residents and urge them to be prepared and sign up for emergency alerts.

One resident who had no idea there was a drill and did not know about CodeRed was Mike Lewis, who got a visit from Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua Stanis.

“To tell you the truth, I hadn’t really thought about it that much,” Lewis admitted, adding that he has checked out possible evacuation routes. “Just grab the dog and go.”

Down the street, neighbor Tim Crough said his wife was signed up for CodeRed, but the drill served as a good reminder.

“I hadn’t really thought about drills from a residential standpoint,” he said. “This has been an interesting process. The more I thought about it, the more it became, why haven’t we been doing this? Preparation is the key.”

One important component, those participating stressed, was road-testing emergency communications among more than a dozen agencies that all have their own radio frequencies.

“It’s paramount that we work together,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matt Wallen, the incident commander, citing the need to adapt to increasingly aggressive fires. “Mother Nature’s not kind anymore. We’ve got to be prepared.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 539-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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