After the Fire Evacuation

Marty Thompson

            The 4,700 residents of Oakmont returning to their homes after a week-long evacuation found a coating of ashes, spoiled food and visions of the half-dozen homes lost here to the Glass Fire and some damaged fences and yards. And the grim burned-over areas along Highway 12.

            Concerns now include reducing fire hazards in yards and making any future evacuation easier and faster.

            Oakmont did escape a round of Public Safety Power Shutdowns that dry, windy weather prompted PG&E to order the week after the evacuation. The outages affected some 1,700 customers in Sonoma County including near Kenwood, but not Oakmont.

             Some residents left before the evacuation mandate late on Sunday night, Sept. 27. That order led to traffic backups of up to two hours on the only two Oakmont exits, Oakmont Drive and Pythian Road. And those exits feed onto the two lanes of Highway 12. 

            A third possible exit via White Oak Village and Channel Drive was available early in the evacuation, but very few people reportedly used it, and it was later closed to allow fire fighters’ vehicle access to Trione-Annadel State Park.

Three Oakmont service clubs, Soroptimist, Kiwanis and Rotary, posted a banner thanking first responders at the Oakmont Drive entrance off Highway 12.

            The evacuation spurred discussion of possible evacuation route alternatives, a difficult issue because of the community’s layout and the narrowness of Highway 12. It also heightened focus on ways homeowners can better protect their property. The OVA board in September approved a Firewise Landscape Policy encouraging homeowners to remove junipers and other flammable landscaping by Aug. 31, 2022. 

            The wildfire pointed up the shortage of volunteers for the Oakmont Emergency Planning Committee, or OEPC which uses radios to spread emergency alerts and instructions. 

            “We only have enough neighborhood communications staff to cover about half of Oakmont and most of that coverage is a single individual, said the head of OEPC, Pat Barclay. “We need more residents to take this seriously and get involved. It’s not rocket science and takes very little of their time.” To volunteer, send an e-mail to OakkmontERT@gmail.com.

            Two other efforts include volunteers who help keep track of their neighbors during an emergency. The two, COPE and MYN, also need volunteers.

            After returning home, many people filed insurance claims to pay for removal of the sooty fire residue and the smell of smoke inside their homes.

            Many also are eyeing large bushes that have grown over the decades and are now too close to homes and fences. The Firewise zone around a house is five feet, and any trees should not reach onto a home’s roof. Other recommendations include a gravel strip next to a home’s foundation and ventilation screens with 1/8-inch openings, not the more common 1/4-inch.