[Butte County] Grand Jury finds alerts "inadequate" during Camp Fire

OROVILLE, Calif. — 

The Butte County Grand Jury is recommending a series of changes to be better prepared for devastating wildfires.

The new 74 page grand jury report examined several issues, including the Camp Fire in November of 2018.

The report highlights the need for improved evacuation plans and needed upgrades to emergency communication equipment. The grand jury also pointed out, improvements recommended by the grand jury after the 2008 Humboldt Fire had still not been made. "The 2008-2009 Grand Jury recommendation to widen the shoulders and turnouts along existing evacuation roads has not been funded."

But the grand jury also noted some improvements had been carried out and were helpful during the Camp Fire. The report reads "Following the 2008 Humboldt Fire, vegetation removal along the Skyway and Clark Road allowed those evacuation routes to remain passable during the Camp Fire."

Calli-Jane DeAnda, the executive director of the Butte Fire Safe Council, agreed while adding that more funding is needed to get the job done.

"We need support to remove dead trees that are along roads that may fall on roads in addition to brush that's growing directly next to roads," said DeAnda.

The report points out during the Camp Fire only 7,000 of the 52,000 foothill evacuees were alerted to the approaching wildfire. The grand jury said the phone notifications via the CodeRED system is “inadequate as a stand-alone emergency notification system due to vulnerable telephone and cellular service. “

Butte County District 1 supervisor Bill Connelly didn't quibble with the report's findings, but said these changes wouldn't have likely saved the town nor the 85 lives lost on November 8.

"Anyone can throws rocks at our notification system but this was an unprecedented fire in the history of California," said Connelly.

"The best notification system we have is neighbor on neighbor, know who your neighbors are and help them out," he said. "And that happened a great deal of the time up in Paradise."

The report goes on to say audible alarms must be included in the county’s emergency alert system to notify the most people in case of a wildfire.

It also called for the increased use of infrared-equipped drones to assist emergency responders.

The full list of recommendations are as follows:

1. The Public Works Departments of Butte County and the Town of Paradise should widen the shoulders along ridge and foothill community evacuation routes to aid in evacuation flow, prior to July 1, 2020.

2. The Public Works Departments of Butte County and the Town of Paradise should clear and maintain all flammable vegetation in fire-prone areas adjacent to evacuation roadways, prior to April 1, 2020.

3. The Butte County Department of Development Services should increase enforcement of current laws related to fuel reduction and defensible space, prior to January 1, 2020.

4. The Board of Supervisors should allocate additional funding to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office to expand the “Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program” for use in vegetation reduction along evacuation routes, prior to January 1, 2020.

5. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should amend evacuation route plans to include surrounding communities to address the influx of evacuating vehicles, prior to January 1, 2020.

6. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should establish additional assembly/refuge/greenbelt areas in fire-prone communities for use during evacuations, prior to January 1, 2020.

7. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should adopt assembly/refuge/greenbelt area signage that is easily identifiable by the general public and emergency personnel, prior to January 1, 2020.

8. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should establish an educational campaign for Special Needs Assistance Program for citizens requiring additional assistance during an evacuation, prior to January 1, 2020.

9. The Butte County Board of Supervisors should enact roadside vegetation clearance requirements that are enforceable throughout Butte County, prior to January 1, 2020.

10. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should update the 2013 Butte County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, prior to January 1, 2020.

11.. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should establish multi-platform emergency notification systems to augment the current CodeRED alert system, prior to January 1, 2020.

12. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office should acquire new fire-resistant outerwear for personnel in wildfire-prone areas, prior to January 1, 2020.

13. The Butte County Office of Emergency Management should acquire infrared-equipped drones to aid in spotting fire locations, prior to January 1, 2020.

14.The Board of Supervisors should fund one temporary grant-writing position for the next fiscal year to take advantage of the fire-related monies now available.

July 2, 2019

KTVL News 10

By Kelli Saam and Jerry Olenyn

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