Carl Ostrom: Fire evacuation and community collaboration
This is an open letter to Cal Fire, Nevada County supervisors and fire departments addressing a specific issue, but is meant to expose a systemic issue for western Nevada County.
I just drove up Casci Road from Scotts Flat Lake. A few miles up the road I encountered an impassible bog in the middle of the road with no way around it. While a high clearance 4×4 probably could make it, most vehicles could not.
I live on Scotts Flat Road close to the lake campground. In the event of a fire in my area, I have three escape routes.
1. Scotts Flat Road to either Highway 20 or Scotts Valley Road, if the fire is coming from the south or east.
2. Scotts Valley Road or across the upper lake dam, if the fire is from the north.
3. Casci Road, if the fire is from the west — coming up the Deer Creek canyon affecting both Scotts Valley and Pasquale roads.
While we are all focusing on fire prevention (as we should), we really need to address evacuation as well. We see from the Camp Fire how evacuation issues resulted in loss of life.
In my local area, an evacuation would not only affect the local residents but the campers at Scotts Flat Lake as well. It is bad enough that all that traffic could be forced down Scotts Flat Road all at once, but ushering them across the dam to the south would be very difficult. However, take the third alternative, Casci Road. That would be an impossibility. It only takes one stuck vehicle to stop all the traffic.
While it might be too late for this year, we need a comprehensive evacuation plan for everyone. If there is one, please identify where it is available. I have never seen it.
My recommendation is that we divide the western county into evacuation zones. All residents in a zone would share the same evacuation routes. It is likely that a large number of zones would need to be defined to meet this criterion. This information would be mailed to all residential addresses and provided in a web link in an article in The Union, so that everyone would know what to do if the call to evacuate were issued.
If there are only single or limited evacuation routes in a zone that could be blocked if the fire comes from a specific direction, those residents need to understand that they need to evacuate at their earliest notification of a fire in that direction.
Now for the ugly part. If an evacuation route is defined, that path must be maintained to allow unimpeded vehicle traffic during the fire season. How this occurs has huge legal and financial barriers to be crossed, as it most likely will require the use of private roads and access. But the problem needs to be solved.
This is where the word “community” needs to be embraced.
Some of the solutions may be very controversial and might appear to be unfair to some. But we need to remember that this is literally about life and death. We might be more prone to sacrifice during or after a tragedy to help those affected. But it is wiser and more productive to be sacrificial in prevention. So, when funding and property and access rights are being discussed, this is the time to fully understand the impact to public safety.
I hope something is already in the works, but if not, we need to treat this as an emergency situation, because it is.
Carl Ostrom lives in Nevada City.
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