Tahoe faces evacuation challenges
Whenever wildfires rage around Tahoe’s borders, residents here get a little nervous.
Tahoe’s geography would present real challenges in an emergency because of limited exit routes, according to fire officials here.
The Lake Tahoe Basin is surrounded by 8,000 to 11,000-foot peaks. Four mountain passes provide access out of South Shore, and one two-lane highway heads north to Emerald Bay.
If a blaze gets out of control here, fire districts will depend on several possible safety zones to send residents, including the Lake Tahoe Airport, the casino corridor, schools, golf courses and beaches.
“The goal would not necessarily be to get everyone out of the basin as much as to get them to safe places,” said Ray Zachau, fire marshal for South Lake Tahoe.
Highways must remain uncongested to allow for incoming traffic to bring fire-fighting resources into the basin, Zachau said. He was a firefighter on one of the first teams to respond to the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, where small streets jammed with outgoing cars prevented fire trucks from accessing the area.
Evacuation procedures will depend on the specific emergency situation and what routes are cut off, said Curtis Fields, battalion chief with Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.
“We would try to evacuate people to one of the main highways and to a safe place, whether it’s one of our schools, the casino corridor and possibly off the hill,” Fields said. “If the road is closed, we’d implement other options, like golf courses, beaches, open spaces.”
People can look for instructions on where to go from radio, television and online newspaper reports at http://www.tahoedailytribune.com. Fire districts also have an automated phone messaging system they could use to notify people.
In a worst-case scenario, law enforcement would use megaphones and drive down streets announcing an evacuation and where to go, Zachau said.
And when that word comes, people will have to move fast.
“There’s not going to be a lot of time. You could just have a few minutes,” Fields said. “You want to have everything that you want to take ready. Things are going to move so fast.”
On the Web:
How to prepare
— Put all irreplaceable papers in one box that you can grab at a moment’s notice
— Keep a week’s supply of necessary medicines
— Store enough food and water to last at least three days
— Devise a plan for your pets