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Gold Mountain residents attend a debriefing session after one of their recent evacuation drills. Chief Robert Frank (with his hand up) led the session along with, from left, Battalion Chief Brian Attana of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District and Captain Elaine Frank. Photo submitted

Be Firewise: Evacuation preparation

The Gold Mountain Firewise Committee is leading the way when it comes to “firewise best practices” in Eastern Plumas County. Gold Mountain Committee Chairwoman Kathy Kogge shared the results of the committee’s two recent voluntary evacuation drills held in August and October.

Participants were told the time of the drill and that they would have a half hour to evacuate their residence, with their pets if they had any. They were given the additional task of pretending there was no power, a very real possibility in the current climate, so they would have to open their garage door manually. Afterwards, they met to debrief with the help of Chief Robert Frank and Battalion Chief Brian Attana of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District.

The second drill was similar to the first, said Kogge, but participants were asked to try and improve their time to evacuation. Some people made it out in five minutes the second time, Kogge reported. The goal, she said, is for “people to feel confident they can leave safely and prepared.” Repeating the drill helps residents get to the point where evacuation is rote and doesn’t require on the spot thinking.

After the Camp Fire, said Kogge, the Gold Mountain Firewise group realized they needed to “prepare for the unpreparable.” They’d already taken on creating and maintaining “defensible space” around their properties and in the community as a whole.

Now, they turned their attention to evacuation. They went through the list of items to have in their “go-bags,” what to take for their pets and more. Those with pets who had the best evacuation times had crates ready to go and plastic containers already filled with food, bowls, leashes, medicines and bedding, so all they needed to do was load it into the car.

Kogge said she carries her go-bag in her car at all times, so that step is already covered should she need to evacuate. She has items that will help if there is no power, as well. She pulled a 4-in-1 crank operated flashlight, AM/FM radio, siren, and USB charging adapter device out of her bag that wasn’t much larger than a standard flashlight.

She has a combination whistle and compass that also contains a storage compartment, and an all-in-one tool, a little lantern, warm gloves, hand warmers, an emergency thermal blanket, a respirator type mask for smoke (N95 or P100 is recommended), extra glasses, essential medications, and of course, duct tape. The National Fire Protection Association also suggests extra clothes, three gallons of water per person, and a three day supply of ready to eat food.

Kogge recommended storing essential documents such as a drivers license, medication list, insurance cards/policies, bank account records, passport copy, credit card account numbers, and emergency contact numbers on Google Docs or another cloud-based source. If that’s not available, make sure you have your essential documents in a waterproof, portable container ready to go.

If you have time, there are a number of other things you can do that will help your home survive a fire and will also help firefighters. Shut off gas tanks at the meter, turn off pilot lights, close all doors, vents, and windows, remove flammable window shades and curtains, and leave your lights on so firefighters can see your house under smokey conditions.

Outside, if you have more time, shut off propane tanks, gather up flammable items (patio furniture, children’s toys, door mats) and bring them inside. Move propane barbecue appliances away from the house. Connect garden hoses for use by firefighters. Fill buckets, children’s pools and garbage cans with water and place them around the outside of the house.

Additional items to take with you if time allows include easily carried valuables, family photos and other irreplaceable items, and chargers for phones and laptops.

While all this preparation might seem daunting, “procrastination is not the best process,” said Kogge. The goal of the drills and follow up brain storming sessions, is to make Gold Mountain community residents confident they are prepared if the worst happens. “You always think you can do it tomorrow,” she added. But, the Camp Fire taught otherwise.

They also wanted to think beyond fire, “expanding beyond firewise to being wise,” Kogge said, adding, “we’re accepting this is the new normal.” And, that includes considering the possibility of a power outage during the evacuation process. Kogge can’t raise her heavy garage door manually, so she’s added a battery back up system.

Further, during the evacuation drill, several women said they couldn’t reach the handle used to disengage the door from the power source. After the exercise, they added a step ladder to their preparations.

Beyond that, Kogge said, participants identified other hindrances to a successful evacuation. And, they noted things that could be done ahead of time, such as having an area map with at least two evacuation routes marked, checking what gas stations have back up power, and making sure gas tanks are always half full.

If you have pets, Kogge suggested locating pet friendly hotels in Reno and, if possible, family or friends who can take your pets in for a period of time. And, take a photo of yourself with your pets in case you get separated and need to identify them.

Gold Mountain has 400 lots, and only 85 residents, so communicating with neighbors in an emergency could be daunting. Still, where possible, residents were encouraged to reach out, know who was home and who would need help. She also said that most people are underinsured, and now is the time to make sure your homeowners insurance coverage is based on current replacement cost. It’s also important to video or photograph your house and valuables for a possible insurance claim.

Another important way to prepare is to have certain apps and communication systems in place. Plumas County has a Code Red Emergency Alert system which will warn you of local emergencies. Sign up here: www.plumascounty.us/2163/CodeRed-Emergency-Alert-System.

Join and follow these pages on Facebook: U.S. Forest Service – Plumas National Forest and Plumas County Sheriff’s Office. Also, check out the CalFire fire map website: www.fire.ca.gov/general/firemaps. These sources may also alert you to which evacuation routes are safe to take.

Finally, said Kogge, take red flag warnings seriously. These are issued by the National Weather Service and alert you when conditions are ideal for wildland fire combustion and rapid spread. CalFire promotes a Ready, Set, Go wildfire preparation plan that includes: 1. ready: defensible space creation; 2. set: evacuation pre-preparations, and 3. go!: evacuate.

Kogge said when you get a red flag warning, you already should have done your ready, set, and be prepared to go!

Next week, look for an article specifically about pet and livestock evacuations.

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