Watching the flood and potential dam breach situation unfold in California over the past two months has been breathtaking, scary and frankly, ironic. Less than four months ago, I met California Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci at a meeting in Santiago, Chile, where he presented on the five-year-and-counting severe drought conditions in California and the significant impacts on wildfire conditions and potential. Just six weeks after our November trip, Mark was posting warnings and updates in his Twitter feed about the pending weather system that hit parts of California with flooding rains as early as Christmas, and seems to have barely let up.
Governor Brown declared a state of emergency for more than 40 counties on January 23. However, one of the most harrowing situations unfolded a few weeks later as it became apparent that the emergency spillway on the Oroville Dam was failing. A reported 200,00 residents in areas below the dam, including Chico and Yuba, were forced to evacuate. Many of the communities in the area both downstream and upstream of the dam are also prone to wildfire and many are involved in Firewise and their local Fire Safe Councils. Faith Berry in our Wildfire Division heard from Brenda Rightmyer, director of the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council, with whom she had worked closely in the years when she was an NFPA Firewise Advisor in California. We were happy that Brenda and her neighbors in the Concow/Yankee Hill community were safe in their upstream location, and very excited to hear that their wildfire preparedness work was paying off in helping their families, friends, and folks in harm's way to be safe from the flooding.
Brenda wrote to us, "With the Oroville Dam situation, Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council was sharing copies of the community evacuation plan that has a wealth of information in it, not just for wildland fire preparation and evacuation. The Concow/Yankee Hill community evacuation plan...[includes] information like creating a household safety plan and preparing a "go bag". This is universal information for anyone needing to prepare and leave on a moment's notice. We were passing along this information to family and friends of our community to them. Also, on our Facebook page, we promoted the Butte County Sheriff's 'Stay Informed' program for mass notifications."
This active and engaged community jumped into action to help people with sound and practical information that may even have saved some lives and prevented some injuries. We are so proud to share their story, and hope you'll take a look at their evacuation guide, attached. Check out www.wildfireprepday.org for great ideas for preparedness projects and activities you can do with your neighbors on May 6 or any time.
Photos courtesy Brenda Rightmyer, Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council director