Healdsburg-area neighborhoods taking part in weekend wildfire evacuation drills
Sonoma County will conduct a pair of evacuation drills in wooded, rural areas on the outskirts of Healdsburg over the coming weeks to ensure residents are prepared for the next potential emergency to hit the region.
The first exercise is scheduled for Saturday morning in the Mill Creek neighborhood southeast of the city, with the second taking place in the Fitch Mountain neighborhood northeast of town on Nov. 2. Sonoma County officials are asking residents in both fire-prone areas with limited entry and exit points to participate and develop their own escape plan.
“These are the kinds of locations that a planner designing a community would not have approved,” said Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the two neighborhoods. “They’re very difficult areas with one way in, one way out. We want to wake up the people there who are still asleep on that precarious road with a lot of vegetation. We want to get to the point where people realize both the beauty and difficulty of where they live.”
Mark Farmer is a four-year resident of Mill Creek and co-leader of the neighborhood’s emergency preparedness group. He said the night of the 2017 firestorm was an eye-opener for him and his wife, and they knew from that point forward they needed a different game plan.
“It scared the crap out of us,” said Farmer, 54. “The first thing that we did was start to get to know some of our neighbors. I barely knew any of them the first two years I was here and … it just helped kind of give us more peace of mind that, yeah, we’re all in this situation together and we’ll help each other.”
He estimates Mill Creek’s seven separate neighborhoods have about 250 residents living in more than 150 homes - many of them tucked away on driveways a half-mile long. Creating a database of resident contact information and working with local fire officials to map out the properties was critical to ensure people are accounted for if there is another major wildfire or possibly a large earthquake, Farmer said.
The drills, which will include local fire and law enforcement agencies alerting residents to evacuate their homes and take the designated routes out, are the second such planned in the county. The Cavedale-Trinity community just east of Glen Ellen in Sonoma Valley was the first to participate in August, with others scheduled for the future.
“Sometimes we think we are prepared, but it’s also useful to run through events, and it’s difficult when we’re under pressure to remember things,” said Melissa Valle, spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Emergency Management. “We saw that very clearly in the first drills we had, where the feedback was, ‘It took me too long to get out,’ or ‘I wasn’t prepared to get my cats out.’ These are not only designed to prepare … and to do it, but to be mentally prepared to go from fear to empowerment and know what to do when disaster strikes.”
The two Healdsburg-?area drills start at 8 a.m., and residents will take designated routes to the city’s community center, where the American Red Cross will stage to answer questions about being prepared for disaster. There, participants will also meet with their neighbors and first response officials to discuss ways to improve their exit strategies.
“Part of what we’re trying to figure out are things you haven’t thought of. You don’t know what you haven’t thought of,” said Farmer. “And it’s a great way to get to know some more of your neighbors and hopefully encourage others in our community to get involved.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336.