For the fifth year in a row, Winters witnessed a devastating wildfire which is close to 90,000 acres in size, the largest area we have experienced. This week was mostly dedicated to dealing with the ramifications of the County Fire and its impacts on the Greater Winters Area. The following is a synopsis and chronology of the events of the first couple days of the fire and some insight into our approach to response.
- The actual fire began in Guinda on Saturday and quickly in the evening, we were being warned that conditions were ripe for a significant spread through the Capay Valley, into Indian Valley and along the ridge. By 4:00 on Saturday, we had “spotting” in key spots meaning the fire was headed south.
- Sunday, July 1 9:00 a.m.- My phone starts blowing up with calls from the Fire Department, Yolo Office of Emergency Services and the Mass Care Coordinator for Yolo County. By that morning, CalFire had already moved an “Incident Management Team” into Yolo County and was assembling at the Yolo Fairgrounds. By 9:00 am, we were given an estimate that the fire would possibly reach the outskirts of Golden Bear Estates and the Positas Road residential area. We were told that “mandatory evacuations” were being implemented with the prospect that the fire would reach the area within the next 6 hours. We were asked to activate our Emergency Operations Center and begin pushing information and notification to residents.
- Sunday, July 1 9:30-Yolo County OES sent out a mass notification for key areas, including all properties “west of Road 89” from Madison to Winters. Unfortunately, the computer grab for the area included the City of Winters proper and more than half of the City residents were incorrectly notified to evacuate. We quickly worked to send a second call throughout the City cancelling the evacuation order and focusing it on the County areas outside the City and west of 87D.
- By 10:30 we were setting up our EOC and many of our partners were arriving. The Yolo Sheriff’s Office arrived, City Staff, our Police and Fire Departments and our goal was to begin implementation of evacuation orders for Golden Bear and Positas.
Given that we have done evacuations and dealt with large fires previously, we knew we would run into some issues. First was skepticism from residents on evacuation. Golden Bear has about 50 residences and about 15 on Positas Rd. Over the past four previous events, the number of people actually evacuating has diminished significantly because of restrictions on re-entry even when the fire is out. People essentially choose to stay, which is their choice. We visited every residence in both locations with Sheriff Deputies.
- By noon on Sunday, only a single confirmation of an evacuation had been confirmed from Golden Bear and 2 from Positas. The residents were staying put and we basically mapped the locations of those staying .
Our main goal at this point was to push information via our social media (mostly Facebook) and respond to “rumors” circulating about the fire. The Yolo Sheriff and OES did an amazing job of keeping the City in the loop on activities, as did the CalFire Incident Management Team. Regular briefings were scheduled we were represented at each.
- We opened the Community Center as an “Information Center” to essentially gauge the evacuation of folks and to answer questions. No evacuees showed up but we did have some folks interested in coming in and talking about the fire. After 3 hours, we closed the Community Center and began directing persons needing shelter to the Esparto Boy Scout Cabin which had been set up as a shelter by the Yolo County Mass Care Coordinator. In total, only two people from the Capay Valley showed up for a single night.
Our experience with evacuations has taught us that most people are not interested in sleeping in a shelter. Many people have pets (which are typically prohibited) and most find a place to stay with friends. The Community Center does not have television, showers or internet which are now the basics of a good shelter. In the previous 4 years when we established shelters, we have never housed a single evacuee from Golden Bear or Positas. Most either do not evacuate or choose a hotel or stay with friends. The number one requested resource preferred during our previous evacuations was the availability and phone numbers for local hotels. Thus, when the evacuation order came forward, we immediately began calling hotels for availability and pushed that through our contacts and social media.
- By the afternoon on Sunday, we closed the Community Center and made available the Boy Scout Cabin for persons changing their minds.
Some of the basic comments from folks was “why didn’t the City open a shelter”. The reason is rooted in our history of not having local evacuees and the amount of resources needed to staff a shelter. In this case, if we had requested the establishment of a shelter, they would have divided the resources from Esparto and sent them to Winters. In a shelter you also need to provide security and privacy. There is a system for persons coming to a shelter which is pretty labor intensive. Additionally, food, hygiene and things like television and internet are critical elements. Finally, we simply know our constituency for this situation.
In next weeks segment, I will cover the workings with CalFire and Incident Management Team 3.
Have a nice weekend.