Camp Fire devastation reminds Truckee of fire danger | SierraSun.com

Camp Fire devastation reminds Truckee of fire danger

Hannah Jones
hjones@sierrasun.com

Despite the recent devastation of the Camp Fire which destroyed the town of Paradise, Truckee fire officials say they're confident in their evacuation plan and ability to keep residents safe.

While it's possible for any fire to move as quickly as the Camp Fire if the same wind conditions existed, emergency services coordinator for the Town of Truckee, Robert Womack, said there were significant differences between the environment of Paradise and that of Truckee.

"We don't have the same fuel model here in terms of combustible products and trees," said Womack. In addition he said the town layout looks entirely different for Paradise's with easier access to a main highway, Interstate 80.

"It's a very different look," he said. "When we talk about evacuating Truckee we look at subdivisions," he said noting that officials would focus on evacuating the most affected area first. "It's impossible in any town to unload every home at once. That doesn't mean I don't think we can handle any situation that comes up."

"Yes, we have a lot of two-lane roads and limited access," he said. However, "the infrastructure would probably support getting people out of those houses."

In case of a wildfire, Nick Brown, Truckee Fire Protection District's prevention officer, said the main priority would be to get people out as fast as possible, focusing on smaller areas first to avoid gridlock on the roads.

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"We wouldn't want to use State Route 89 as a means of evacuation, we'd want to get everybody east and west," said Brown. "The benefit of this area is having Interstate 80 right there."

The devastation of the Camp Fire has raised questions concerning high rates of development and increased densities within areas such as North Lake Tahoe.

"With us having a large interstate to go in and out east and west I personally don't think we're developing too fast," said Brown. "A more important factor is making sure you're going to receive notifications of evacuation."

Using Nixle, http://www.Nixle.com, a system designed to send out text notifications to residents, the fire department is currently able to reach 7,000 people instantly.

"This is the absolute best way to get early evacuation warnings and orders from their cell phones via text messaging," Brown said.

"The biggest thing we can tell people is say you got to go and have them believe us," said Womack. "If we can do those things that whole evacuation issue is going to solve itself."

However, Womack said it's a different situation when evacuating a home care facility or a hospital when the density of a half acre facility may be significantly more than a typical neighborhood.

"How do we make sure as emergency commanders we know those kinds of facilities exist that we would have to give special attention to," he said. Womack said creating the best defensible space around those facilities is another important factor, stating if they can't evacuate the residents they'd have to be able to defend them.

Currently all Truckee residents are required to create 100 feet of defensible space around their homes. This means keeping grass short and watered, stacking firewood away from your home, reducing the density of the surrounding forest, pruning branches up to 6 feet and keeping the roof and gutters clear of debris.

Brown said the most important thing for residents is to be alert and aware of Red Flag warning days and prepared to leave if the time comes.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at hjones@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2652.