By now you’ve probably heard about the wildfires that are currently still running amok throughout California, especially the Valley Fire in Lake County. So far it is the third most devastating blaze in California history, and it has burned over 76,000 acres, as well as 1,783 buildings. Thousands of residents have had to evacuate and hundreds are currently living in tents and campers as the hotels in the area are booked to capacity. 3 people have died, and several more are still missing.
In spite of it all, the fire has provided a very important lesson. When disaster strikes, you really have to think for yourself. As many of the residents of Lake County have learned, you can’t always expect the authorities to take care of everything. That’s because some of the survivors have reported that local authorities failed to give them a proper evacuation notice before their homes burned to the ground.
MIDDLETOWN, Calif.— High school math teacher Bill Davis watched from his home as smoke mounted from one of the most destructive fires in California in recent memory.
From a previous fire in late July, he knew to expect a recorded call on his cellphone or look for someone coming through the neighborhood with a bullhorn yelling for people to evacuate.
“None of that happened,” he said. His house in Lake County burned after he finally rounded up his cats and left.
Davis was among a number of survivors who say they never got an official evacuation notice Saturday about the blaze — a situation that raises questions about whether more could have been done to notify residents.
Authorities defended their warnings and rescue attempts, saying they did all they could to reach people in the remote area of homes, many prized for their privacy.
“You may get that notice, or you may not, depending on how fast that fire is moving. If you can see the fire, you need to be going,” said Lynnette Round, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CalFire.
Davis added that he tried to contact CalFire when the power went out, and after getting through to them he was told that he might want to leave, but there was no evacuation notice for his neighborhood. “I was never told, ‘Get the hell out of there, there’s a huge fire coming at you.”
Normally I’d have plenty of criticism for the government’s shortcomings, but in this case I can’t really blame them. Wildfires are similar to most disasters, in that you will likely know that trouble is coming ahead of time. You’ll probably even have a few days to prepare.
Unlike most disasters however, wildfires are extremely unpredictable. It’s not like a hurricane where you can reasonably predict the path of destruction once it arrives. They may burn consistently for a while, and then suddenly start chewing up the land at an alarming rate; or the wind may shift and change its course. At its worse, the Valley Fire managed to consume 62 square miles in 12 hours, which is roughly half of total acreage that it has burned in less than two weeks. In a situation like that, it would be nearly impossible for emergency responders to warn everyone of the impending danger.
They may have a fairly good idea of where the fire is at, how fast it’s moving, and where it’s going, but not a precise idea. They can’t know everything that is happening on the ground from moment to moment, especially when the fire is spread out across tens of thousands of acres.
So when disaster strikes, you can’t just robotically follow their warnings and orders (or in this case, the lack thereof). Even when they do have a good handle on the situation, they don’t know everything. Only you can know with 100% certainty, when your life is danger. Ultimately, your survival rests in your own hands, and you’ll always have a better idea of when it’s time to bug out.