Navajo County urges residents to prepare for disaster | Apache County
âEach year, we strive to educate our communities across the community,â said Janelle Linn, Navajo County Public Health Director. “This year is knocking at home – we have had multiple disasters, including the pandemic and the wildfires.”
And with a new wave of COVID cases in a poorly vaccinated community, not to mention the possibility of another flood of fresh burn scars – we could be in the spotlight.
“As fall and winter approaches, we could see quite a trifecta of disasters,” said Linn, whose department includes the county emergency management agency. âThis morning we learned that our July flooding had been approved for a federal disaster declaration – in addition to a state declaration. This is important to our owners and our communities in general.
So the Navajo County Board of Supervisors dutifully declared September’s Disaster Preparedness Months.
Of course, September is almost over. But the county was never big on preparing for disasters early on.
The county has yet to pass a Firewise ordinance to require forest communities to keep brush and pruned trees to prevent the kind of ember storm holocaust that has devastated Paradise California, killing 85 residents as they were fleeing the flames on roads blocked by burning trees. A recent study found that Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside face a much greater fire danger than Paradise before it was destroyed.
Additionally, the county has yet to consider a building code that would toughen new buildings on fire. Both Flagstaff and Prescott have adopted comprehensive fire-rated building codes. Such codes focus on building materials, rooflines, overhangs, porches, and other design features that can reduce the chances of an ember storm from a distant forest fire setting the fire. to several houses at the same time. Studies show that house flames can easily spread from house to house to consume an entire block, especially if firefighters are trying to deal with multiple fires at once.
Studies also show that these fire-friendly building codes don’t add much to building new homes, although it can be expensive to try and renovate an existing home. Therefore, most of these codes only apply to new buildings.
The supervisory board passed the resolution urging everyone to prepare for the disaster.
The proclamation read: “Preparing for disasters means protecting everyone you love, which applies to all citizens of our riding”. The resolution called on “everyone to prepare in advance for any unexpected disaster that may arise”.
The proclamation urged residents to âfollow the three principles of READY, PLACE, GO! Stay aware of significant danger and evacuate immediately when danger is imminent and life threatening.
However, a practiced escape plan did not save Paradise. The ember storm set the town on fire with the blazing front still miles away, before authorities could activate the evacuation plan. Additionally, fires started by the embers storm blocked escape routes, according to a careful analysis of what went wrong by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
Unfortunately, the community had not adopted a Firewise brush cleaning code or fire-resistant building code, so the one-off fires started by the embers quickly overwhelmed firefighters and residents.
The campfire ultimately consumed 18,000 structures and 150,000 acres of drought-stricken forest, inflicting $ 1.7 billion in losses. The cleanup cost an additional $ 3 billion. The 2018 blaze cut through dry forests of bone in 50 mile-per-hour winds, according to the reconstruction of events in the 421-page report. The White Mountains faced similar conditions this summer, before the onset of a happily wet monsoon brought the wildfire season to an end.
The Forest Service now spends $ 2 billion to $ 4 billion each year fighting forest fires, but the losses keep increasing. The campfire drew 5,600 firefighters, 900 pieces of equipment and a small air force. But they still couldn’t save Paradise, Magalia, and Concow – older communities without a WUI building code or Firewise regulations consistently enforced. The communities were surrounded by thick forest that had not burned in decades or that had been thinned to slow the spread of flames or create a firebreak between the towns and the forest. The fragmented thinning projects protected critical infrastructure, but were not large enough to save the community in the face of extreme conditions.
Firefighters pointed out that most of the fires in town were started by embers, which set hundreds of houses on fire, parked vehicles, furniture on porches, wooden fences attached to houses, open porches, openings unshielded attic ventilation, bushes against the sides of houses, piles of pine needles on roofs and other hazards. Entire blocks burned as the fire spread from house to house, although the flaming facade left the trees across the street untouched.
Paradise and Butte County had been talking about fire risks for years, according to the report. They passed several programs to encourage people to firewise their homes, passed an ordinance to allow people to remove larger vegetation without a permit, and undertook fuel treatments around schools, the irrigation district and others. critical infrastructures – which, for the most part, functioned to protect these sites. .
The county and city have also implemented a reverse 911 system to automatically call people with emergency alerts, streetlights equipped with back-up batteries, streets swept with flammable debris, evacuation procedures planned and practiced and took other steps to prepare for the unthinkable.
But they never adopted a fire-resistant building code or required brush clearing. They also failed to prepare an evacuation center that would allow trapped residents to take shelter in place safely.
6:25 a.m .: First report of a fire on the west bank of the Feather River.
7:00 am: Fire escapes from the canyon.
7:23 a.m .: Embers sets fire to houses in Concow, three miles from the start of the fire.
7:44 a.m .: Embers start point fires in Paradise, 7 miles from the start of the fire.
8:30 am: At least 30 point fires burn in Paradise, up to 3 km inside the city limits.
8:45 a.m .: Embers had started two separate fires 2 miles and 4 miles from the fire front.
10:00 am: Fires burn on both sides of several escape routes, trapping residents in their cars with the wind “blowing like a blowtorch”.
11:00 a.m .: Flames at times 150 feet long continued to block escape routes unpredictably, capturing more evacuees in fatal burnovers.
12:00 p.m .: Fire entrenched in canyons on all sides of town, forcing firefighters trying to reach trapped people to retreat on many fronts.
3:00 p.m .: Fires throughout the city and in the city center. At the top of the ridges, the winds created flame lengths of 100 to 200 feet. In the canyons, flames 10 feet long. Embers and flames threaten many homes.
5:00 p.m. The flaming front reaches Concow, with flame lengths of 50 to 100 feet. In paradise, many houses are burning, trees have fallen on many escape routes.
Night of November 8: the behavior of the fire moderates, but continues to call for structures.
November 9: midnight to 8:00 a.m.
2 a.m. Winds picked up to 50 mph, blowing softball-sized embers into new areas.
2: 00-6: 44am: Fire consuming hundreds of structures in Magalia and Concow. The retreating firefighters must cross the flames to reach the safety zones.
Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Contact him at [email protected]