The Berkeley Fire Department hosted a wildfire evacuation preparedness workshop on Sept. 10. About 340 residents attended the meeting, which was hosted on Zoom.
“As the last few weeks have made profoundly clear, we’re all affected by wildfire regardless of whether we live within the city limits or not,“ said Khin Chin, a Berkeley resident who has worked for the city Fire Department’s Office of Emergency Services for 12 years. “It’s really amazing what a month of smoke, red skies and statewide fires can do to help advertise a workshop like this.”
Chin facilitated the meeting with Katie Hawn, an Emergency Services coordinator for Berkeley who has recently focused largely on COVID-19 response.
Chin and Hawn started the workshop by emphasizing that wildfires are a real danger in Berkeley. In 1923, a wildfire spread from the Berkeley hills and destroyed about 600 homes. Climate catastrophe has increased the risk of it happening again.
“It can happen in Berkeley. It has happened in Berkeley,” said Chin.
If a wildfire strikes in Berkeley, the city likely will not have the capacity to evacuate people, so, according to Chin, “self-evacuation makes up the majority of the community response.”
Chin and Hawn encouraged people to pay attention to the National Weather Service for Red Flag warnings, which are most likely to occur in dry, low humidity, high wind conditions.
“Anytime you hear the Red Flag warnings you should begin your preparations to be ready to evacuate,” said Chin.
To prepare for evacuation, the workshop stressed that it’s important to have a list of supplies and important things you would like to have and save and to be aware of where they are. The list could include medications, supplies for pets, important documents, medical supplies, water, and important irreplaceable items. Hawn suggested bringing games, like cards, to prepare for lots of downtimes while evacuated.
Besides the go-bag of important supplies, make sure to have charging devices for your phones, computers, etc. Spreading the word is also helpful for others.
If you have the ability to evacuate by vehicle, make sure that the vehicle has a full tank of gas. The organizers also stressed finding more than one route to major roads in case certain roads become impassible and, if possible, making arrangements with friends or family who you could stay with the outside of the area ahead of time. If you are forced to evacuate and have no friends or family to stay with, they suggest finding a parking lot that is outside of the evacuated area.
For those who will have difficulties evacuating, which will mean taking more time, Chin and Hawn suggest pre-evacuating on Red Flag warning days if possible.
One Berkeley resident named Phyllis who’s 86 and lives in the Berkeley Hills, said she pre-evacuated to stay with her grandson in El Cerrito twice recently when Red Flag warnings were issued for the Berkeley Hills. There was no wildfire but she was still glad she pre-evacuated as it made her feel safer and less stressed.
“I would have been scared to be by myself and I wouldn’t have slept those nights probably,” she said.
During an evacuation, Chin and Hawn suggest paying attention to the 1610 AM, an emergency advisory radio station. They suggest programming it into your radio ahead of time. Residents should also sign up for an emergency alert notification system suggesting www.acalert.org.
The workshop stressed the importance of preparing ahead of time so you can have some control over your evacuation if it is necessary.
“When you feel really out of control,” said Chin, “that’s when things are the scariest.”