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Firewise in Rossmoor

Fire safety and how evacuations function top town hall discussion

By Mike Wood

Staff writer


Wednesday, June 19 (12:00 p.m.): A sea of hands arose from the audience at the Firewise Town Hall when asked how many were receiving Rossmoor Nixle alerts.

That prompted a smile from Noell Crosse, fire education coordinator for the Contra Costa Fire Protection District, who asked that question of the crowd at the Event Center on June 10. Close to 100% raised a hand.

Those with a thirst for learning more about evacuations, emergency preparedness and efforts to make Rossmoor more resilient from wildfires took part in Rossmoor’s first Firewise Town Hall, organized by Mutual Operations Director Jeroen Wright and the Firewise committee, comprised of volunteer residents.

There were 240 residents who signed in as attendees, 100 more who joined on Zoom, and 35 other residents who helped stage the event. The total of 375 participants significantly helps Rossmoor’s Firewise efforts toward accumulating 1,300 volunteer hours per year, a requirement for maintaining recognition as a Firewise community by the National Fire Protection Association, something Rossmoor first achieved last December. Another Firewise town hall is planned for later this year.

Presenters also included GRF Public Safety Manager Tom Cashion, Walnut Creek Police Chief Jamie Knox, ConFire Fire Inspector Jose Valenzuela and Rossmoor Emergency Preparedness Organization board member Marcia McLean.

Wright noted the Rossmoor Firewise mission statement, “Wildfire risk reduction while sustaining Rossmoor’s quality of life,” crafted by the Firewise committee, whom he thanked.

Asked during a Q&A session about how residents can help with Firewise, Wright said it’s about spreading the word, as education is incredibly important. So are timely responses.

“While you’re out there in the community, be the eyes and ears of your community and if you see something that you think is fire danger, don’t hesitate to make a phone call,” Wright said. That should be to the Work Order Desk at 1-925-988-7650 so “we’ll get those calls to the appropriate people to get them taken care of.”

Cashion reviewed Rossmoor’s eight evacuation zones, which are listed on one side of the wildfire evacuation card, and the Resident’s Guide to Wildfire Preparedness and Evacuation, which has “Vacant and Already Evacuated” sign to be placed facing out on a door or front window to signal to emergency responders that you are safely evacuated. (Both the evacuation card and resident’s guide are available at Gateway’s and the Rossmoor News’ front desks.)

He also made a distinction on utilization of the golf course as a haven during a wildfire.

“We advocate the golf course, but only as a last resort,” Cashion said. “Meaning, if you can’t get out. (Traffic) is backed up. There are all these cars crashed all over the road. The fire is coming. By all means, go to the golf course. It is a safe place when you have nowhere else to go.”

The difference between an evacuation warning and an evacuation order was broken down by Valenzuela. Any evacuation warning should be heeded very seriously, he explained, as it is “an imminent or potential threat to life and property that exists.”

People should evacuate when an evacuation warning is issued, if they have not already done so, he said. For those who cannot self-evacuate, this might be the only time that family members could enter the community to assist them. It should always be assumed that if a warning is issued, that a mandatory evacuation order will follow, Valenzuela noted.

“Obviously something’s coming, they’re trying to tell you, we want to assume that mandatory order is going to come, so let’s go and get our stuff together and get out,” he said.

An evacuation order comes when it’s determined that threat to life and property is immediate, he said, noting at that point, people are being asked to leave within 15 minutes.

The concept of police going door to door during an evacuation order is rare during a firestorm, Knox said, “because it’s rapidly moving and we’re just focused on saving lives at that point, moving people out.

“It’s a tall order to go door to door, depending on how close that fire is,” Knox said.

Preparedness was stressed, from go-bags to emergency contacts, including having at least one who is out of state. Finding a “preparedness buddy” is important, too, Crosse explained.

She asked: “How many of you are aware of someone who lives within your Mutual who doesn’t drive a car that might need a buddy during a disaster?” About half responded.

“This is where you come into play; this is where the village starts,” she explained. “You may need or you may know someone that needs a preparedness buddy, somebody who can help you leave your home, help drive you to your evacuation place, friend’s house, family member, hotel.”

Two words were echoed repeatedly by presenters regarding evacuations: “Leave early.” As Valenzuela put it, “get out as soon as you feel any danger.”

“My husband is 94 and there’s no way that I would wait until there was an evacuation,” McLean said. “If I see smoke, I’m going to get my wonderful go-bag, put it in my car and leave. And I will have at least two people that I can go to.”

The Firewise Town Hall will be shown on Rossmoor TV on the following dates: Thursday, June 20, at 5 p.m.; Friday, June 21, at 7 a.m.; Saturday, June 22, at 3 p.m.; Sunday, June 23, at noon; Monday, June 24, at 7 p.m.; Tuesday, June 25, at 7 a.m., and Wednesday, June 26, at 10 a.m.

It also can be watched at on Rossmoor TV’s YouTube channel or at on demand.