Sonoma County plans to develop evacuation guides for dozens of communities

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Panicked residents fleeing the onslaught of the 2017 firestorm found themselves locked in bumper-to-bumper traffic, especially on Mark West Springs Road and around Coffey Park, areas where more than 3,000 homes were destroyed.

For them and others who might find themselves in a similar predicament during a future disaster, Sonoma County officials say help is on the way.

Christopher Godley, the emergency services director, said his agency plans to identify two dozen communities at risk from wildfires and also ready to collaborate this summer on guides for getting out of harm’s way.

Communities will be chosen based on factors including population density, road networks and the level of wildfire fuels they contain.

“We want to build preparedness as part of what we are in Sonoma County,” he said.

The goal would be a one- to two-page guide including potential evacuation routes and other resources, such as where residents can go for shelter and what they should take with them.

The “greatest challenge” in the planning for any given community is not knowing where a future wildfire will start, Godley said.

There won’t be a countywide evacuation plan, he said, because he does not anticipate evacuating the entire county at once.

Once a plan is established, it would be critical to hold a drill, most likely on a Saturday morning, Godley said.

Mill Valley in Marin County held its annual Evacuation Drill on May 18 when residents in a specified area were sent alert notices at 9 a.m. They were instructed to collect their “Grab & Go Bag,” check on their neighbors and walk or bicycle to a drill command center at an elementary school.

The city of about 15,000 also maintains an evacuation map that shows recommended routes in red.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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