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Firewise Committee member and Chester Public Information Officer Karen Lichti conveys information to a group of community members May 14 on how to safely evacuate during an emergency situation. The title of the talk was, “Evacuation and Communications Plans. Do You Have Yours Ready?” The Firewise Committee goal is to teach people how to adapt to living with the possibility of wildfire and encourage neighbors to work together to take action now to prevent loss of life. Photos by Stacy Fisher

Be prepared if ordered to evacuate

The last of a series of three Firewise meetings was held in the Chester Public Utility District/Chester Fire Department conference room May 14.

Hosted by Firewise Committee member and Chester Public Information Officer Karen Lichti, the title of the talk was, “Evacuation and Communications Plans. Do You Have Yours Ready?”

The Firewise Committee’s goal is to teach people how to adapt to living with the possibility of wildfire and encouraging neighbors to work together to take action now to prevent loss of life.

Community members who attended the discussion received a number of handouts providing valuable information on how to prepare to evacuate should a wildland fire threaten where they live.

After the Camp Fire last year brought devastation upon the town of Paradise, nearly wiping it out and killing more than 80 people, the Firewise Committee and Chester Fire have been engaging as many people as they can to take seriously the dangers inherent during fire season.

Before diving into the main topic of how to evacuate safely during an emergency, Lichti began her lecture by letting attendees know that a free Home Ignition Safety inspection undertaken by fire personnel can be scheduled as an opportunity for homeowners or tenants to receive positive feedback on things to do to make their homes safer in case of wildfire, primarily through the creation of a defensible space around their property by removing flammable materials that could catch fire and spread to your dwelling.

“If the time comes, you have to know what to do, what to take with you and an idea of where you’re going to go” in the event of a wildfire overtaking your neighborhood, Lichti said.

She said that in Chester, Highway 36 is likely the escape route you’ll take depending on which direction the fire is coming from, but if you live at Canyon Dam or Prattville, Highway 147 or 89 may be used instead, unless authorities have redirected traffic during an evacuation.

“In Plumas County, orders to evacuate are under the auspices of the sheriff’s office, not the fire department,” said Lichti, because fire crews will be out fighting the fires, adding that there’s no reason not to depart ahead of time before being ordered to do so if you see smoke and want to be cautious. “If you’re concerned, hop in your vehicle and leave the area.”

Chester is officially recognized as a designated Firewise community.

She reminded the group that the Camp Fire happened so fast from strong wind gusts that there was little time for authorities to respond with evacuation orders.

“It is up to you to be informed,” she emphasized. “You cannot rely on sheriff or fire department personnel banging on your door for you to get out.”

Precautions start with creating a “to-go” bag or emergency kit consisting of several essential items you can take with you on a moment’s notice when fire threatens.

The Chester Fire Department has available to the public free handouts to add to your emergency kit (or create your own) that includes a “Get Ready! Family Emergency Plan” sheet where residents can list important out-of-town contact information, your family physician phone number, pharmacy info, medical, homeowners and rental insurance policies, bank account numbers, social security numbers, and a regional meeting place so that if family members are not together when disaster strikes, they can contact one another and meet up later when conditions are deemed safe.

Make photocopies ahead of time of your important papers and mail two sets, one each to a close friend and one to a family member living in another district or state. Keep an additional set and place it in your to-go bag.

Lichti suggested at the meeting to take some time to drive around finding various potential escape routes along side streets leading out of town, should roads be closed during a major emergency or due to unforeseen obstacles.

Keep in mind however to follow all directions given by sheriff deputies and CHP officers. They will know the safest way to go during an emergency situation. Often they will have blocked off a number of side streets.

“Don’t try to go around them” by following a different route than you’ve been directed, Lichti cautions.

She also noted that to reduce liability, PG&E has established a new set of rules to shut off power for entire grids even before a fire has a chance to fully develop, as a way to mitigate the chance that the company’s equipment and power lines might produce sparks and further exasperate a growing conflagration.

“It may be five to seven days before the power is turned back on,” said Lichti, “because they have to visually check every pole and connection before they reenergize their lines.”

In summary, Lichti stated that when people need to quickly evacuate from their homes, having prepared an emergency kit or to-go bag filled with basic items at the ready before an emergency situation strikes is essential.

What to include in your emergency supply “to-go” kit

– Portable radio and extra batteries.

– Hygienic supplies: shampoo, soap, razors, toilet paper and feminine products.

– Disinfectant hand towels.

– First aid kit (w/pain medications).

– Cell phone charger (consider a solar charger).

– Flashlight and extra batteries.

– Up to $200 cash.

– Two changes of clothes/socks/pair of shoes.

– Two towels and blankets.

– Medications in labeled baggies.

– Emergency information and contact numbers.

– Photocopies of your credit cards and your driver’s license.

– A number of bank checks.

– Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses.

– A whistle to signal for help.

– Can opener, paper towels and plastic utensils.

– Paper and pens.

– Matches in a weatherproof container.

– Packaged food/snack items/pet food.

– Spare set of car/house keys.

Suitcases can function as emergency supply kits as well, and can be used to provide more room for necessary items. Some suitcases have rollers that make it easier to take along with you.

Also, grab your computer or hard drive if you have time to do so. Leave your printer, as these are inexpensive to replace.

You should have provisions including non-perishable food that will last for at least a three-day period, or better still a week, including a gallon of water a day to drink per person.

If you have a portable oxygen concentrator or diabetic supplies, don’t forget to take these along with you.

Do you own camping gear? Have it located where you could throw it into your car promptly: a tent, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, paper plates, matches, Zip-lock baggies, battery operated lanterns, an ice chest, a plastic tote container with extra clothing and miscellaneous items, rain gear, gas stove and propane.

Also include a pet carrier. Pet food and kitty litter for cats is also needed if you have a pet that must go with you when you evacuate from your home.

Always keep your gas tank at least half full, since loss of electricity means gas stations cannot pump gas. On red flag days, try to keep your tank full. Have a certified gasoline container handy for storing extra gas, but fill it only after arriving to your destination. Do not keep filled gas containers in your car, which can be hazardous.

You must obey California law regarding the proper transport of guns and ammunition.

Don’t forget your wallet, passport and credit cards.

Should you be forced to evacuate immediately and haven’t much time to gather your supplies, remember to take these crucial items, pets and pet food, prescriptions and glasses, personal computer w/power cord, important papers/documents/contact numbers, a few irreplaceable heirlooms and memorabilia (if you must), cash and credit cards.

Note: It takes time for evacuation centers to open, so it is essential to plan for enough supplies that you are self-contained for a minimum of three days.

Also, many shelters will not accept animals, so plan ahead where you could take your pet such as a kennel in an outlying township.

Resources for information in case of emergency

Chesterfire on Facebook

KJDX 93.7 FM or KSUE 1240 AM radio

Plumasnews.com

CodeRed phone notification (must sign up for this service online)

ChesterPUD.org

Plumas County Sheriff’s Office

Resources for wildfire preparedness:

www.readyforwildfire.org

www.firewise.org

www.countyofplumas.com

www.ChesterPUD.org

www.calfire.ca.gov

www.wildlandfirersg.org

CodeRED

Since Plumas County no longer has reverse 911, Chester Fire is encouraging residents to sign up online for CodeRED at: www.countyofplumas.com.

Click in the green box “Emergency alert system sign ups.” Once the page loads click on the “Click here to register your contact info” and follow the directions to complete the sign up.

The CodeRED is a service that allows for the county to contact residents directly through the OES by cell phone message or text, or by sending an email during an emergency, to let people know whether there’s an approaching wildfire, flood conditions, downed power lines, lost individuals and abductions, chemical spills, bomb threats, the need to evacuate or other emergencies.

Anyone seeking assistance to register can call the toll-free number at: 866-939-0911 from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is confidential and free.

More information on protecting your home or business from wildfire can be found at WildfirePrepDay.org.

Karen Lichti can be contacted at: [email protected] or phone 258-3456. Firewise materials are available free at the CPUD/CFD building, 251 Chester Airport Road.

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