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Berry Creek Fire Safe Council concerned over wildfire evacuation route

A portion of Berry Creek's evacuation route is still under construction. Now members of the Berry Creek Fire Safe Council are sounding the alarm.

Posted: Jun 18, 2019 3:01 PM

BERRY CREEK, Calif. - Many people living in Berry Creek say they are very worried about the upcoming fire season.

They watched what happened with the evacuation on the Skyway, and now, they are sounding the alarm about their own evacuation route.

A portion of Oro Quincy Highway has been washed-out since early 2017. If a fast-moving, ember-driven wildfire were to rip through the area, neighbors say they would only have one good route to evacuate. And a fire could block them in.

The Butte County Public Works Department says the Oro Quincy washout is a Federal project. Fourteen years ago, under the Federal Highway Administration, a section of the highway was paved and widened.

In those 14 years, that section of road has failed three times. It's a $2 million project, and the county had to wait for the federal government to hand over the money to fix it.

The Berry Creek Fire Safe Council is opening the lines of communication within the community. Members want everyone to know all of their options. Pastor Don Rau, a member of the council, lives on the top floor of the Whispering Pines Chapel just a few miles down the mountain from the washout. He says the Camp Fire heightened his sense of urgency.

“It did change because they had the same issue that we're concerned about," Rau said. "It was the access out, and so many people, you watch it on TV, and you see people literally getting out of their cars and running for dear life because there was nowhere to go. And of course, there's no access this way because of the road collapsing here a few years ago. They're working on that, but they're not done yet.”

“We are being overlooked. We really need help. We really need a way out," said council member Denise Bethune. "I’d hate to see the lives we lost. It only takes one tree to go into that road and it would be chaos. I would hate to see the lives we could lose with that.”

Berry Creek was one of the first communities evacuated during the Camp Fire, but the wind blew the flames in another direction, and the community was spared.

Council member Joan Carter says it’s only a matter of time before Berry Creek burns. She refers to what she saw with the aggressive speed of the Camp Fire.

“Those people had no time,” she said. “One of the people that I know that I work with, it took her an hour to go four blocks because it was total gridlock. They were panic-stricken, and we’re basically panic-stricken too. If we can’t get out of here, we have to learn how to fight a fire. We're the island in the storm. We've had the Carr fire, we've had fires all around us, and we’re what’s left. Sooner or later we are going to burn.

Construction on this road is expected to wrap in September.

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