Are we prepared for a fire?


Firefighters conducted a controlled burn on Horse Hill in Mill Valley on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, to prepare for the upcoming fire season. (Ethan Swope)

By Quinn Rothwell, Social Media

Mill Valley residents have dealt with the traffic in their town for many years. Many would agree that it has never been worse. So, imagine close to 15,000 people, all in their cars, driving down Miller or East Blithedale to flee an emergency. Is this a safe way to evacuate? What if we are at school? What does the City of Mill Valley have planned for us?

On November 8, 2018, the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire ever recorded in California’s history, struck Butte County. The damage resulted in $16.5 billion after 153,336 acres burned and 18,804 buildings were destroyed. Worst of all, the fire caused at least 86 fatalities, many of which were people attempting to evacuate the area.

“Evacuation routes turned into seas of vehicles during the height of the emergency, leading frantic residents to abandon cars and attempt to escape the fire’s advance on foot,” according to The Sacramento Bee. Many survivors described their escape as luck, and that it took strength to keep going as the fire was “outrunning them.”

Mill Valley needs a plan to evacuate the 15,000 people living here. Two exits won’t cover us all.

The City of Mill Valley has listed information on their website about how they are preparing, and how we can be the best prepared. While many may think taking your own car is what you should do, the best course of action is to evacuate in your neighbor’s car. This will decrease the amount of time it will take to evacuate from any given town.

An evacuation map posted by the City of Mill Valley. (City of Mill Valley)

When emergency sirens — which are tested the first Saturday of every month — go off, do not call 911. Turn on the news and note the severity of the emergency. The fire and police department will most likely have their hands full, so the last thing they need is someone asking if Miller is a good evacuation route.

Before evacuating, understand that time is limited. To be prepared, make sure you have all important documents such as passports, birth certificates, social security cards, marriage licenses, and anything else that may take a while to replace. Keep these in an accessible area, not deep in boxes in a closet.

Remember that the most important thing is keeping yourself safe, not saving things that can be replaced. Although many think that it is better to be on foot, the opposite is true. Cars provide an enormous amount of protection. They protect from hot gases, embers, and radiant heat, and as long as they are driving on pavement, are resistant to burning. Once in your car, turn on the air conditioning and your headlights. Make sure every seat is full, helping elderly neighbors or others if they don’t have the capability to evacuate themselves.

If school is in session, students will most likely need to shelter in place unless time allows for an evacuation. In Mill Valley, there are six dedicated assembly areas: Tamalpais High School, Old Mill Elementary, Mt. Carmel Church, Park Elementary, Edna Maguire Elementary, Mill Valley Middle School, and the community center.

The two main roads in Mill Valley are Miller and East Blithedale, and that will remain the case unless there is an emergency that makes those roads unusable. There will inevitably be traffic, but remember that you are safer inside your car or a building than outside on foot. If there is no other option, pull your car over to the side of the road, never leaving it in the middle because that will put others in danger.

We live in a special place which draws many families. Although the population growth adds to our community, it also creates more stress on evacuation. Let’s be ready to support one another with a plan that is public, straight-forward, and talked about throughout the community.