Early evacuation is the safest for you, your family, and our first responders. You will be less likely to get caught in road congestion, smoke, and danger if you leave early.
When to evacuate
- If you feel that you are in danger:
- During quickly evolving wildfires you need to be situationally aware and be prepared to evacuate if you feel you are in danger even without a formal evacuation order.
Before wildfire ignites on Red Flag Warning days
- If you live in an area that is difficult to evacuate, you can consider self-evacuating when wildfires are predicted to have rapid growth. Consider evacuating before wildfire ignitions during Red Flag Warnings and especially during high wind events like those that cause Public Safety Power Shutoffs. You can visit with friends and family in nearby areas, take a mini-vacation, or go to the mall.
- You can sign-up for severe weather alerts, which include red flag warning, at www.weather.gov/subscribe
- Follow National Weather Service, Sacramento, California @NWSSacramento
Voluntary evacuation order
- Officials prefer that you leave to protect your safety, and the safety of first responders. Leaving during a voluntary evacuation order may make your evacuation safer and easier than waiting for a mandatory evacuation order.
Mandatory evacuation order
- Leave immediately and follow directions from Sheriff Department and Cal Fire
- Have paper maps with at least two evacuation routes outlined.
- Download GoogleMaps offline in case there is no cell service.
- Some of the most dangerous roads are our own. California’s state regulations have road size and clearance requirements for new properties. When possible, consider upgrading driveways and private roads to these requirements.
Beyond Evacuation: Shelter-in-Place, Temporary Refuge, and Entrapment
Yuba County is unfortunately at great risk to quick moving deadly and destructive fires. In rural areas, like Yuba County, the safest choice is to evacuate early sometimes even before a fire ignites. Buildings can be replaced, but lives cannot. If you live in an area of limited road access (one way in and out) and could be trapped by a fire, then you should plan ahead for the possibility. Prepare to evacuate before a wildfire ignition during Red Flag Warnings, especially during North Wind events, and prepare for the possibility that you may not be able to evacuate due to a quick moving fire.
Country Fire Authority’s 2018 Leaving Early: Bushfire Survival Plan. Australia’s Fire Danger Rating “Code Red” is similar to our Red Flag Warning.
Early evacuation is always the safest option for wildfire survival and this may include evacuating before an ignition on a Red Flag Warning day especially with North Winds predicted. Evidence from Australia, where Shelter-in-Place is a policy, demonstrates that the policy risks lives especially if protocol is not followed. Australia implemented a program with residents and fire departments to train those interested in sheltering in place about the physical and emotional demands, how to prepare their property, and how to survive a fire; this information reduces the risk to people’s lives when they complete the training and preparations at home. Early evacuation is recommended for children, the elderly, and people with special needs or a disability should be well away from the threat. Special needs include people with physical or mental conditions such as a disability, asthma, heart problems, emotional or mental health problems.
“Historically, late evacuation has been a major cause of bush fire fatalities … As such, Australian fire services try to discourage people from leaving at the last minute, when they are more likely to encounter hazards such as flames, fallen trees, thick smoke and road accidents. …” Defending your property from wildfire or sheltering in place are also dangerous, so Whittaker recommends “ … a practice called active sheltering, which may include extinguishing fires both inside and around the house, monitoring the fire’s location or leaving a burning house to seek refuge in a nearby location, like an already burned-out field. It’s also important to shelter in a room with two exits and with a clear view of the outside, ideally on the side of the house farthest from the fire.”
– Joshua Whittaker, Research Fellow, University of Wollongong’s Center for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires
Shelter-in-Place is not a common policy in California, although a few communities practice it, including Rancho Santa Fe in Southern California. Rancho Santa Fe local fire department enabled this policy because the community evacuation route was dangerous; it was through a narrow canyon with thick shrubs. Rancho Santa Fe has strict codes and enforcement about wide roadways, water supply, fire resistant homes, defensible space, and training that the Homeowners Association and Fire Department enforce. Residents are encouraged to evacuate early rather than shelter-in-place because this is the safest for residents and first responders. If residents cannot evacuate due to a quick moving fire, they either stay in their home or go to a community center.
Last resort in a temporary refuge
Wildfire Safety Zones or a last resort temporary refuge, a designated outdoor gathering area, are not common in California either. Camelot Meadow, a Wildfire Safety Zone in Butte County, saved numerous lives during the 2018 Camp Fire. It was established after the quick moving 2008 Humboldt Fire because people realized evacuating the Concow Basin may not be possible. In 2014, the Butte County Fire Safe Council and Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council worked with Cal Fire to create a wildfire public assembly safety zone in Concow. During the Camp Fire, sheriff deputies, firefighters and residents gathered in the meadow while 100 ft flames licked at the meadow’s borders. The group had many scary moments as firefighters helped them shuffle around meadow to stay away from the100+ foot tall flames and radiant heat.
While wildfire safety zones are uncommon, they can be a back-up plan for quick moving fires. If you are interested in these zones, it is important to work with the Yuba County Office of Emergency Services, Yuba Watershed Protection and Fire Safe Council, and your local fire department to identify and modify areas so best protect peoples’ lives. There are no formal recommendations for resident safety zones, but there are recommendations for firefighter safety zones who have training and special gear. Firefighter safety zones are supposed to be four times as great as the flame heights. If you have a Ponderosa pine that’s torching 150 feet high, you would need 600 feet around the people. New research has found that sign.
A Wildfire Safety Zone at Camelot Meadow. (Photo: Butte County Fire Safe Council)
Australia has tested alternatives to evacuation more so than any nation or state. Unfortunately, they’ve had mixed results. During Black Saturday in 2009, 173 people lost their lives, especially during late evacuations and defending their property. During Black summer in 2019-2020, 34 people lost their lives. Their latest recommendations are based on studies of survival and lives lost during these wildfires. As Australia alters their recommendations and experiences more fires, their recommendations will continue to be refined. When you research these evacuation alternatives, always use the latest recommendations.
Australia’s Country Fire Authority