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A Lesson on Evacuation Learned from Valley Fire

posted Apr 24, 2016, 3:52 PM by Joe Christy   [ updated Apr 27, 2016, 12:50 PM ]

Last week I had the opportunity to watch a webinar with Linda Green, the incident commander on last September’s devastating Valley Fire in Lake County, on the Valley Fire Case Study & Lessons Learned. The recording and slides of the webinar are on the California Fire Science Consortium’s Winter WUI Webinar Series site (say that three times fast).

She told a gripping story, packed with insights, and I’d like to share just one. The fire was reported, at half an acre, at 1:21 pm. By 1:32 it had already grown to more than 3 acres and the helitack team that provided the initial response had been forced to deploy their fire shelters as they were burned over. By 1:37 she ordered the area around the fire evacuated, and by 1:58 she ordered the town of Cobb evacuated and began using the bullhorn on her vehicle to notify people in nearby resort areas of the evacuation as she drove around looking for vantage points to size-up the fire’s spread. She was surprised to watch people turn back to talking to their neighbors after she drove by areas where the top of the smoke column was visible while bottom was not. If people couldn’t see the threat, they questioned the orders. She recalled a 2012 webinar on Evacuation Planning in the WUI where social scientists reported that the biggest variation in evacuation times during wildfires was the time that the evacuees milled around talking and wondering what to do next.