Cal Fire urges residents to plan for wildfires

ALTA SIERRA, - As fires rage in Southern California, Cal Fire is urging Northern Californians to have evacuation plans ready in case disaster strikes.

"We try to get in and suppress the fire, but we're dealing with a lot of issues with the public trying to get out in a hurry, not only for themselves and their families, but their animals are another thing that folks don't think about," Battalion Chief Matt Wallen said.

Alta Sierra is one of scores of communities in the Northern California foothills where winding roads and thick forest threaten to trap neighbors if a fast-moving fire were to strike the area. The community just off Highway 49, south of Grass Valley, includes many retirees.

"If one thing caught on fire it would just take everything out," resident Alyssa Jones said.

She also said people should know multiple escape routes, "because the further back you go up here, the windier the roads are, the crazier and the deeper in you are."

Having a clear evacuation plan can help firefighters as they move into an active fire.

"Often times we end up with many traffic collisions that not only block the roadways for people to get out, but we can't get our emergency equipment in," Wallen explained.

As they watch the fires burning in Southern California, neighbors are reconsidering what they once thought was safe.

"Some thought, we'll go down to where the ponds are, but watching these fires, they'd go right over those ponds and you'd be boiled to death," resident Lyn Hayes said as she walked her dog.

She said she would try to make it to a nearby supermarket parking lot. "I would take Francis or Alta Sierra. I would turn around and I would not go the other way toward 49. I've got it thought through," Hayes explained.

It was just to the south of Alta Sierra that the 49 Fire in 2009 burned 343 acres and destroyed 63 homes and three businesses.

Wallen said Cal Fire likes to see staggered evacuations -- where people leave in an orderly fashion, taking things they've considered well ahead of time. He stressed the importance of sheltering in place until you get evacuation orders from law enforcement or firefighters.

"(Take) valuables that you can't replace, that insurance companies aren't going to replace," Wallen advised. "Photos, hard drives, there's always the chance that our best is not going to be good enough."


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