By the Deer Springs Fire Safe Council
A standing-room-only gathering of about 150 people packed the Pavilion at the Hidden Meadows community center on July 15 for an exercise designed to help residents prepare to evacuate in the event of a wildfire.
The exercise presented a scenario – a fire breaking out on the east side of Hidden Meadows during a Santa Ana – and asked attendees: What do you do now? How much time do you have to get out? Should you wait for an evacuation order or just go? What should you pack?
Presenter Gregory Lorton said such a scenario could push fire toward Turner Lake and Alps Way in a half hour, and within two hours the fire could reach the golf course and threaten the fire station, burning some homes along the way.
With the fire advancing at such a rate, residents need to use situational awareness and be alert to where the fire is and where it may be going, said Deer Springs Fire Safe Council President Craig Cook.
“You don’t want to drive toward smoke,” Cook said.
Lorton advised residents to keep tabs on the fire by calling the Deer Springs Fire Safe Council hot line, 949-472-1407. Fire Safe Council volunteers contact CAL FIRE officials to get the latest available information and continually update the hotline during an event. CAL FIRE San Diego operates a twitter account that it updates regularly with fire information. Television news and the Union-Tribune website are also good sources for more regional information.
Some Hidden Meadows residents recalled the evacuation of 2007 and the confusion that ensued as vehicles were backed up into the Meadows. Many had questions about possible ways out should authorities issue an evacuation order.
“You guys don’t have a lot of ways in and out,” Lorton observed.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Menzies and CAL FIRE firefighter/engineer Joe Burcham addressed the possible exit routes during an official evacuation:
Mountain Meadows Road will be the major egress route. Deputies and California Highway Patrol officers will staff roadblocks at Champagne Boulevard, moving people through the intersection and directing them where to go.
During an official evacuation, the gate through Rimrock on Meadow Glen Way West will likely be open, Menzies said. If it isn’t, call 9-1-1 and it will be opened.
Cougar Pass Road, a dirt road connecting Meadow Glen Way East with North Broadway in Escondido, may serve as an evacuation route, but not in the scenario presented because the fire would block the road. Not all cars can negotiate Cougar Pass to Escondido, because the road is heavily rutted, and it narrows and dips to cross a creek. Cougar Pass Road in the opposite direction, north and then east to Valley Center, is gated. Menzies said that this gate would likely be open if people’s lives were in danger, but it also was unsafe in the scenario.
Moss Tree Lane, a stub road where Meadow Glen Way West makes a right-angle turn just west of the Hidden Meadows community center, should not be used as an evacuation route because it is unsafe, said Burcham.
Presenters advised that the sooner you can get out of the neighborhood, the better.
“If you wait till the last minute, that’s when traffic jams happen,” Menzies said.
“You can be trying to get out as 20 or 30 fire engines are coming up the hill,” Burcham said.
Residents were engaged in the exercise and offered suggestions based on their past experiences. They acknowledged that in the event of an evacuation, they need to be self-reliant and not expect the Sheriff’s Department to send a bus to get them out.
Among the questions was what to do if a teen-age child is at home while parents are at work and unable to get into the neighborhood.
Menzies and Burcham said that the emergency responders’ hands will be full with so many tasks, and staffing stretched to the limit, that they may not be able to handle individual evacuation cases. Menzies encouraged preplanning a cooperative effort with neighbors to address individual specific needs beforehand.
“If you talk with your neighbors about your special needs, you’ll most likely find out they have special needs, too,” he said.
Presenters included Lorton, a member of the Deer Springs Fire Safe Council and the Champagne Village Emergency Planning Committee; Cook; and Burcham, who serves the Deer Springs Fire Protection District. Menzies represented the Sheriff’s Department and answered questions about evacuations, along with California Highway Patrol Sgt. Dave Morenberg.
CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Nick Brown, who also serves as the Deer Springs fire chief, was a scheduled presenter but was unable to attend because he was fighting a wildfire in San Bernardino County.
The Fire Safe Council prepared the exercise with the Deer Springs Fire Protection District and the Champagne Village Disaster Committee. Future presentations will be held in other Deer Springs Fire District neighborhoods, including Jesmond Dene/North Broadway, the Treasures, and West Lilac.
A version of this article appears in Fire Safety News, a monthly e-newsletter published by the Deer Springs Fire Safe Council. To subscribe go to www.DeerSpringsFireSafeCouncil.com and click on the “SUBSCRIBE” link.