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Our Future After the Fire: Evacuation routes and personal preparedness

With evacuation routes unchanged since the Camp Fire, officials outline steps people can take to keep themselves, family and property safe.

Posted: Jun 4, 2019 10:33 AM
Updated: Jun 5, 2019 12:23 PM

CHICO, Calif. – Seven months after the Camp Fire, stakeholders for the Town of Paradise are talking about rebuilding homes and businesses, getting water flowing and helping people get back in place. There is also the prospect of upgraded infrastructure with underground power lines.

But as the rebuilding process unfolds, what is the state of the road system and has anything changed regarding evacuation routes?
Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough explores that issue in ‘Our Future after the Fire.’

The 2018 wildfire season, especially the Camp Fire, highlighted the dangers communities in wildland areas face, with one of the hazards being limited access and escape routes.

What should those who live in such areas do for safety if current road systems don’t or can’t change? Cal Fire advises everyone to take steps to be prepared should the region face an emergency situation.

Cal Fire/Butte County Captain John Gaddie advises if you are in a high severity zone, to be more aware of where you live and have a plan of getting out if asked to get out.

That advice may not be that easy for those with limited options for escape routes. Communities all across California, not just Paradise, have expanded in a similar fashion.

A series of investigations by the Associated Press indicate a large number of California cities are located in what are considered high fire hazard zones. Many have limited avenues for evacuations.

As Paradise considers various options for rebuilding, Assistant Town Manager, Marc Mattox, says the topic of how current roadways can and or should change, but nothing specific has yet been determined. He says decisions will be based on what community members want, feasibility and costs.

With no definitive plans for road configurations in place, Paradise has taken steps to catalog the current conditions of town streets.
An Australian-based company is using laser technology to capture road condition data. The information will be used to create a benchmark of what Paradise roads may need in the future.

Cal fire says evacuation maps for the region have not changed since the Camp Fire. But what has changed since November 8, 2018, is collective awareness.

Captain Gaddie says those living in the wildland-urban interface are increasingly realizing, what we saw during the Camp Fire has the potential to happen again.

He says with evacuation routes virtually the same, one step individuals can and should take to mitigate the dangers is to educate ourselves.

A primary source of information for the public is Cal Fire. The agency offers individuals a wide range of information to help in planning for the safety of themselves, family and property. Most notably, Cal Fire offers what it calls, ‘Ready, Set, Go.’ The information found on the website or in a downloadable App, offers steps one can take to prepare in advance, know what to do when danger is approaching and have a plan in place for when it is time to go.

Another website which offers useful information is through Butte County and the Office of Emergency Management. One can find details for your region, evacuation plans and downloadable maps of evacuation routes.

Despite PG&E facing numerous lawsuits for its role in the Camp Fire, the utility is taking steps to inform the public should there be an emergency. On its website, there is a call-to-action for customers to update emergency contact information and there is also information on what to do and what items to have ready should the power be cut off.

For the 2019 wildfire season, emergency managers say taking steps to know what to do and having a plan will be a key component for personal safety.

Cal Fire Captain Gaddie says because California has natural disasters, emergency managers want people to be prepared. He says if you are asked to leave, be ready to leave and know which way you are going and what to do.

He adds, for those wanting additional assistance at their homes, Cal Fire will even make a physical inspection of your home to review what defensible space steps you can take and answer any additional questions about being prepared.

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A trough of low pressure is moving over northern California this afternoon and tonight, and that will increase our wind speed and raise our area's fire danger even further. The wind will be weaker Thursday, but the smoke will get worse.
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