By Karen Brainard
“Be prepared,” officials at a community forum on wildfire evacuations told a packed room on Monday. They emphasized that mantra when many residents said they do not plan on leaving next time a wildfire strikes.
Robert Krysak with Committee for a Better Ramona said a survey found that 65 to 75 percent of Ramonans do not plan on evacuating and 90 percent say a “shelter in place” should be developed.
About 150 people were at the forum that was moderated by Lt. Julie Sutton of the Ramona sheriff’s station and County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Representatives from California Highway Patrol, the county Office of Emergency Services, CalFire, the Ramona Municipal Water District, County Animal Services, and San Diego Gas & Electric were on hand to talk about lessons learned and changes implemented since the 2003 Cedar fire and the 2007 Witch Creek fire. They also provided information on creating defensible space to protect homes and preparations to evacuate animals.
After county animal services reported that eight locations in Ramona have been approved as staging areas for animals, Krysak asked why safe locations cannot be designated for residents. Examples he gave were Wellfield Park, San Vicente Golf Course and Ramona High School. According to Sutton, pre-approved places were not deemed safe in 2007.
With safety as the first priority, law and fire officials highly recommended evacuating.
But the memories of gridlock four years ago as residents tried to leave and the inability to return to homes after the fire passed through had some residents expressing anger and dissatisfaction with law enforcement at the meeting.
Sutton maintained that the traffic jams occurred because people waited too long to evacuate after receiving the Reverse 911 call. The calls went out in blocks to stagger the evacuations, she said.
A CHP officer said law enforcement must check to see that services are available before re-populating an area.
“Trust me, we want to get you back in your homes as soon as possible,” he told the crowd.
Resident Beth Edwards said she does not plan on leaving. Her family is equipped with a respirator and other gear, and the property has well water and five acres cleared, she said.
“If you’ve made that choice to stay, be prepared,” Sutton cautioned the group. “Be prepared to do the things necessary to keep yourself safe.”