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Our View: Changing the cliche about wildfire igniting near you

The cliché has proven true.

It’s not a matter of if, but when.

“When” turned out to be Wednesday, Aug. 4, when the River Fire broke out. A small fire soon grew to over 100 acres. Then it kept growing. One firefighter said he expected it to reach 10,000 to 15,000 acres.



The fact that it didn’t should make every one of us thankful, and a bit more scared at the same time.

Our greater community is fortunate this blaze didn’t become the next Camp Fire or Dixie Fire. The possibility was there, and through our firefighters and first responders’ efforts, as well as fortunate weather, we escaped that fate.




And while everyone escaped with their lives, not everyone got away with their homes intact.

Phones screeched with alerts, and the media jumped on reporting about the fire, just as firefighters rushed to contain it. Residents consulted the county map, determining the zones marked for mandatory evacuation and those under a warning.

A great plume of smoke blotted out a large portion of the sky on Aug. 4. People stared at it, wondering, how close is that? What danger am I in?

The answer, then as is now, is plenty of danger. We only feel it acutely during moments like this.

Now that the fire is fully contained, and we can collectively breathe a long awaited sigh of relief, it’s time to reassess how prepared we were individually, determine how we can help those who lost everything, and figure out how everyone can do a better job next time around.

A go-bag by the front door is essential, but so is an evacuation checklist. Some things won’t fit in the bag. You might think you’ll remember the family cat, but situations go sideways when under the threat of wildfire. Make the list, and have the go-bag. Keep the car maintained and gassed up. A stalled vehicle during an evacuation will only make things worse.

Don’t wait for the hi-lo siren before evacuating. The county has a website that divides the area into zones. Print out a copy of the zone map, if that helps you. Post it on your fridge and get familiar with it. Know your zone, and sign up for Code RED alerts.

Ensure you know multiple evacuation routes. A series of Highway 49 wrecks on Aug. 4 snarled traffic. Duggans Road likely saw more vehicles that day than it has in years. There are only a handful of routes in and out of our area. Be sure you know them.

You may be safe, but many people returned to their homes to find them gone. Local nonprofits already hit hard by the pandemic will now feel an additional pinch from the River Fire. They need our help.

Whether it’s the Food Bank of Nevada County, Interfaith Food Ministry, or any of our nonprofits, consider giving what you can. They need it.

And all of us, once the River Fire is in the past, need to figure out what to change when the next big fire comes along.

The county’s zone map, while a great tool, is difficult to interpret. Giving zones names like THX-1138 doesn’t help, either.

The zone map needs names that identify the specific areas they encompass. A key detailing what the different colors mean must be clearer. People don’t want to hunt for a drop down menu when the county is on fire. The map interface needs to be more user friendly.

This community needs to be more streamlined as well. This is the time to fill your go-bags and post your evacuation lists. Now is the time to trim your fire fuels in preparation of the next major fire. Just make sure you don’t start one in the process.

As individuals and as a county, we can change the cliché. It’s not a matter of if, but when — and we’re ready.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com


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