Australia — On Saturday morning, Washoe Valley resident Jane Countryman was busy baking when she got word that a heavy timber fire was headed her way.
“I just put down my stuff, turned off the oven and got ready to go,” she said. “(I) put my horses in a defensible area … got my other animals together, got my important documents and headed out.”
Countryman was the 13 person to check in as part of an evacuation drill designed to prepare western Washoe Valley residents for fire season. Although she knew her home wasn’t in actual danger because emergency personnel made it clear they were conducting a drill, Countryman said she took the affair seriously.
“You don’t realize, until you actually have to do it, all the things that maybe you need to improve on or get better at,” she said. “I think this was great. There’s nothing like actually experiencing it to get a feel for just how prepared you are.”
Sierra Fire Protection District Fire Chief Michael Greene said that was the idea.
The drill, which began at 10 a.m. Saturday, was planned both for the benefit of residents and the emergency personnel who would be charged with evacuating them in a true emergency. Although Saturday’s scenario was that of a fire, Greene said the same procedures could be used in case of an earthquake, flooding or other disaster.
Sierra Fire Protection District public information officer Mark Regan said many organizations took part in the drill, including personnel from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the American Red Cross, the Reno Fire Department and Washoe County Animal Control.
“Anything you need during a wildland fire is here,” he said. “This is a real drill where each department is testing their system to get prepared for the wild-land fire season to see where we can improve.”
The drill involved about 250 residences, but not everyone participated. Some residents weren’t at home, and some chose not to leave their houses to check in at the evacuation area near Bower’s Mansion Fire Station. Greene said he was, however, pleased with the number of people who went through the entire process.
“We did a critique, and we felt really good about the initial notification,” he said. “I think there will be some sort of unintended benefits from this because we’re increasing community awareness. I’m seeing that people will be calling us for fuels management, you know, for defensible space inspections. They’ll just be more vigilant.”
Greene said he also plans to duplicate the exercise in other high-fire-danger areas within the Sierra Fire Protection District. That means residents in Galena, Verdi and Cold Springs will have the opportunity to practice evacuating in the coming months. Before evacuation drills, Greene said, fire awareness classes, similar to one held in Washoe Valley last week, will be staged in each area. His plan is to hold drills at Galena in May and Verdi in June.
“I always joke that the three leading causes of fire are men, women and children,” Greene said. “If we can reach them, we can prevent it. It’s the best investment all of us can make.”