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August 21, 2014
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Is Truckee-Tahoe ready for an emergency evacuation?

TRUCKEE, Calif. — While Monday’s wildfire near Boca Reservoir didn’t threaten structures or the Glenshire subdivision, it’s proof an emergency can happen at any time.

“I think having a fire in the local area drives home the point to folks that it’s still dangerous,” said Paul Spencer, public information officer for the Truckee Fire Protection District. “A lot of times people kind of get that false sense of security because we had all that rain; they think that the fire season is not here, which is very incorrect.”

TFPD was among multiple agencies that responded to the Boca Fire, which burned 84 acres before being 100 percent contained by 10 p.m. The U.S. Forest Service was still investigating its cause Thursday.

At the scene, Spencer said an evacuation was discussed, but not called since there was nothing ahead of the blaze that was threatened.

“If the wind had shifted or (the fire) had been on the other side of the highway, there would have been an immediate evacuation,” said Steve Simons, operations division chief for North Tahoe Fire Protection District.

‘BE PREPARED’

When asked if the public is prepared for an evacuation, Spencer said TFPD hopes so, but in reality, there’s a mentality among people that “it can’t happen in your own backyard.”

“(The Boca Fire) should be a wake-up reminder to our whole community that it happens here and it happens quickly,” Simons added.

Therefore, preparation is key, with tips provided in regional district emergency preparedness and evacuation guides.

“We’re trying to get people involved in their own safety and be prepared ahead of time, so they can walk out their front door,” Spencer said. “… Logistically, it is impossible for us to be everywhere, so it’s incumbent upon the homeowners, property owners, tenants ... to be prepared for (themselves).”

A prepared public helps reduce panic, allows operations to flow better and limits impact to response agencies trying to tackle the emergency, Simons said.

“Successful evacuations require good planning and coordination amongst families, neighborhoods, communities and agencies,” according to the 2014 Greater Truckee Area Emergency Preparedness & Evacuation Guide, which was put together in spring 2013 by the town of Truckee in partnership with Truckee Fire, Nevada County and the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County.

North Tahoe Fire’s guide, meanwhile, was last updated between five and six years ago, Simons said.

“It is still very valid and effective,” Simons said. “The community, the roads and principles haven’t changed.”

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT?

Still, updating North Tahoe’s emergency evacuation plan — which covers what to do before, during and after weather events such as a flooding, earthquakes and wildfires — is on the district’s to-do list, Simons said, although when is unknown.

Squaw Valley Fire Department, meanwhile, provides a brief evacuation mailer specifically for wildland fire that’s reviewed annually to ensure information is up to date, said Capt. Sal Monforte.

If an Olympic Valley evacuation is needed, the mailer directs the public to take Squaw Valley Road to Highway 89, where they can either go to Truckee or Tahoe City, whichever is away from a fire.

If leaving the valley is not an option, the mailer advises driving to Squaw Valley’s parking lot and to wait there.

When asked if the proposed Squaw Valley village expansion project will impact the department’s evacuation procedures, Monforte said he doesn’t expect so.

“Development won’t impact us because it’s so far in the future,” he said. “(The Squaw Valley) parking lot would not be your first choice in a wildfire situation; it would be to get out of the valley.”

As for other potential future development in the Tahoe/Truckee region, Spencer said he doesn’t believe it will impact evacuation efforts.

“That’s an ongoing logistical thing that’s going to happen every year, because what do we have here?” he posed. “We have winter and construction season on the road.”

Spencer said the biggest threat to the area right now is wildland fires.

“We are very much in the fire season for at least the next 60 days, and this is probably the worst part of our fire season because we are already in a drought and the fuel moistures are even farther down than they ever were,” he said Tuesday. “... If we get a fire going, things are going to burn.”

According to CalFire, there have been 4,172 fires between Jan. 1 and Aug. 16, up from 3,198 fires the same time last year.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 24, 2014 04:45PM Published Sep 2, 2014 09:17AM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.