Friday, December 14, 2018

State legislation that was just signed into law in September created an opt-out alert system

'Unprecedented' evacuations in Ventura County wildfires prompt new fix to alert system

Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun

The 911 calls came in one after another as flames reached Ventura County neighborhoods last month.

An injured, elderly man needed help to evacuate his home. A neighbor’s house was on fire, and someone could still be inside. Cars fleeing from flames were trapped by downed power lines.

Hours earlier, the Hill and Woolsey fires had broken out in Ventura County in gusty, dry conditions, barreling toward neighborhoods and prompting evacuation orders for tens of thousand of locals.

The fires broke out Nov. 8, not quite a year after the Thomas Fire exploded in another part of the county.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Division Chief John McNeil with Ventura County Fire Department of fighting those fast-moving brush fires.

“The footprint grows so quick,” he said, talking about the Night 1 on the Woolsey Fire. “Really, the biggest decisions made by the operations position at that point is the timing of when it’s going to impact the communities.”

Authorities count on alert and warning systems to help get people out of harm’s way before that happens. But those systems continue to have gaps.

A flurry of legislative fixes sought to close some over the last year, but even before those new laws take effect, more are being proposed.

On the anniversary of the Thomas Fire, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, proposed expanding legislation that was just signed into law in September.

The law created an opt-out alert system that counties could use, instead of the current opt-in ones.

This month, she proposed expanding its reach through Senate Bill 46.

“This is critically important as we have a 12-month-a-year fire season,” Jackson said Thursday. “We’ve got to be better prepared. We’ve got to warn people.”


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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.

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