What Sonoma County Has Learned From Wildfire Evacuations

Cameras played a crucial role in the Glass fire, locating him overnight in Napa Valley, Lowenthal said. In addition to sightings from a Cal Fire observation plane, authorities have determined that the fire will likely reach Santa Rosa.

“We were comfortable calling for evacuation knowing we had two to three hours for people to evacuate and traffic to calm down,” he said.

There were no fire cameras in 2017.

About 270,000 people – more than half of the county’s population – were evacuated in 2019 and 2020, some more than once, said Chris Godley, the county’s director of emergency management.

The 2019 Kincade fire, the largest in county history, displaced 180,000 evacuees and the Glass fire, with 48,000, accounted for 84% of the total.

The outlook is not promising, with the drought and possibly higher than average temperatures drying out the grasses, brush and trees and causing them to burn hotter and generate more “fiery wind” than usual, Godley said.

Emergency management officials can issue evacuation warnings – which precede evacuation orders – earlier than usual, he said. People who feel uncomfortable with the warning should consider moving before an order, Godley said.

The revised county evacuation zone map, released last month and covering the nine towns as well as the surrounding rural areas, allows authorities to “dial” evacuation orders to manage traffic, he said. declared.

“We can evacuate as much as we need at a time to keep the number of people on the roads to a minimum,” Godley said.

Sonoma County supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she had mental health issues regarding “the repeated trauma of being moved” by the evacuations.

“I know a lot of people suffer from PTSD” triggered by the sound of a siren or a red flag fire warning, she said, referring to the post-traumatic stress disorder associated with the elders. fighters.

There is also a troubling issue of “evacuation fatigue” causing people who have suffered more than one move to ignore future orders, stay put and defend their home, if necessary, Hopkins said.

Calling it a “dangerous state of mind,” Hopkins said it just stems from luck.

His western county district could see evacuation traffic jams in the lower Russian River region – from Forestville to Duncans Mills, including Cazadero – where about 20,000 people would depend on River Road and Route 116, both of which winding two-way.

Thousands of additional visitors will be on the coast and along the river during the summer, she said.

Other traffic-sensitive areas include Kenwood on Hwy 12, the hills above Geyserville where the Kincade fire started in 2019, as well as Fitch Mountain and Camp Meeker, which have one-way roads. and one-sided, Godley said.

Oakmont, with 4,700 residents, has another exit on Channel Drive, a closed emergency access road that can be opened during evacuations, Lowenthal said. It was opened during the Glass fire, but residents were not directed there, he said.

Highway 12 can be converted to a one-way road, but it requires a lot of help from cogeneration, officials said.

Crista Barnett Nelson, executive director of the nonprofit Senior Advocacy Services, said community shelters for those evacuated by fires lacked care for people who need help walking, eating and attending. bathroom.

During the Glass fire, it took more than a week to get some people from a shelter in Petaluma to a suitable living facility. ” It is too long. It’s just not sure, ”she said.

People in “lost memory care” need an especially high standard of care because they “literally can’t find their way,” Nelson said.

Godley said he was aware of the need to expand medical, psychological and nutritional services in shelters.

“It’s not just a cot on the floor,” he said.

Residents must take responsibility for planning how to deal with wildfires, said Sgt. Juan Valencia, spokesperson for the county sheriff’s office. “Know your (evacuation) area; know your multiple escape routes, ”he said.

If you live in an area adjacent to the one that was ordered to evacuate and “you feel uncomfortable you should go,” Valencia said.

“Know how to open your garage door when the power goes out,” he said. “If the worst comes to the worst, go through it. “

State law requires that all garage doors sold after July 1, 2019 must have a battery backup to function in the event of a power failure.

O’Rourke, the Oakmont evacuee, said it took him an hour on Highway 12 to reach Queen Anne Drive, where a police officer turned around to head east towards Sonoma.

He drove down to Petaluma, then up Highway 101 to Santa Rosa, reaching his fiancée’s house in two and a half hours.

Tom Kendrick, another Oakmont resident, said he was stuck at the Pythian Road exit of the subdivision from 10 p.m. to midnight, waiting to enter Highway 12, which was no longer congested.

With most residents ready for the evacuation, many think “don’t wait until they tell you to go,” he said.

“It’s awesome,” Godley said approvingly.

“We face a steady and sustained threat from these dynamic fires that move so quickly and cause so much damage,” he said. “Rather than being scared, we’ve moved to a place where we can face this head-on.”

You can contact editor Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or [email protected] On Twitter @guykovner.

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About Genevieve Swain

Genevieve Swain

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