Getting Prepared For Fire – It’s Personal

This map shows the Oakmont evacuation zones and the new Sonoma County zones which are identified by numbers and letters. You can look up addresses on an interactive map at https://socoemergency.org/evacuation-map/

            With an early declaration of fire season, personal preparedness – from home hardening to evacuation plans – is the top priority of the summer, according to Santa Rosa fire officials. 

            “People should remain focused on what they can do to mitigate the risk to their homes and properties,” said Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa assistant fire marshal. “We often see people pointing to a dead branch 100 feet away, when the defensible space immediately around the home may not be adequate, or leaves and wood chips are up against the house and vents are old.”

            Lowenthal also emphasizes the need for residents to know their evacuation zones. City zones, unchanged from last year, are designated by names, such as the three here called Oakmont South, North and Stonebridge. Sonoma County recently released new zone designations identified by letters and numbers. 

If an evacuation warning is issued, that’s the signal to get yourself, pets and property prepared for leaving. Lowenthal points to the newly enhanced website at srcity.org/WildfireReady with resources that include a printable pre-evacuation checklist. The site also features an interactive map allowing users to look up an address. 

            Neil Bregman, Santa Rosa emergency preparedness manager, urges residents to sign up for SoCoAlert to get the warnings and orders for emergencies.  “Personal preparedness is key,” he said. “Make sure you’re ready by registering for SoCoAlert, getting to know your neighbors having a personal evacuation plan and knowing your ways out of the community.”  A recent city distribution program has also equipped people with free NOAA weather radios, which broadcast emergency alerts. 

            Officials recognize the anxiety that accompanies evacuations. The 2017 fires came with “nearly no alerts,” said Lowenthal. “We were evacuating people when fire was in the communities.” The 2020Glass Fire, however, was vastly different. 

            The system and process improvements since 2017 are aimed at creating better resilience to withstand wildfire.  “Regardless of perception, it was a successful evacuation and people were able to get out in three hours” before fire reached Oakmont, making the fight easier for first responders. 

            Nevertheless, traffic flow that night highlights the need for residents to know the ways out and understand the evacuation process and that “we will give them the time,” said Lowenthal. “If even a quarter of the people had turned (right) to Warm Springs and Bennet Valley, traffic would have been better dispersed.” 

            The  website srcity.org/WildfireReady also provides educational resources and apps covering home hardening and landscaping as well as the wildland urban interface (WUI) that impacts much of Oakmont. 

            Lowenthal said two inspectors are coming on board for vegetation management with a special focus on community education and the WUI and looking at the big picture for risk reduction. 

            “This will take time,” he said, about seeking grant funding for special initiatives that include home hardening. Inter-agency conversations with state parks and CalTrans are also ongoing about fuel reduction in Trione-Annadel State Park and along Highway 12 respectively.

            “The big ticket items can’t happen overnight, and there is considerable confusion over how fast it (grant programs) can happen,” he said. Meanwhile, the vegetation management program is an immediate response to need that uses “eyes designed to help our communities.” He projects the program will be instrumental in identifying areas for fuel reduction and working with neighborhoods on the most effective strategies to reduce risk. The department is expected to fund these new positions for the next several years.   

            This map shows the Oakmont evacuation zones and the new Sonoma County zones which are identified by numbers and letters. You can look up addresses on an interactive map at https://socoemergency.org/evacuation-map/

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