Nov 30, 2019
By Ronald Hennessey
Why were you evacuated? What was behind Sheriff Essick’s evacuation order? Clearly he was nervous, but nervousness in itself hardly qualifies as sufficient justification for evacuating 180,000 people. There must be a deeper explanation. Cal Fire is said to have a fire risk model, but what is it? I find no descriptions online.
Perhaps it involves the highly mathematical technique of cellular automata. OK, but in that case, did Sheriff Essick access it? And what are the model’s limits? Does it apply only to forests and chaparral?
Or, rather than the Cal Fire model, did the sheriff base his order on empirical data garnered from the history of fire spreads in the western United States? If so, why are there no police reports or newspaper descriptions of that empirical model? In a Press Democrat interview on Oct. 27, Sheriff Essick worried that the Kincade fire might sweep through the Russian River corridor. Nothing wrong with a vivid imagination, but we need to know, as accurately as possible, the real-life probability of that particular occurrence.
And how would a fire in the Russian River corridor threaten Santa Rosa? And what are we to make of the absence of secondary fire outbreaks in Santa Rosa during the Kincade fire? If the threat was serious enough to warrant evacuating an entire population of 180,000, would we not expect to see at least one or two secondary outbreaks in Santa Rosa?
The most useful fire prediction model would deal with all these thorny questions and more. Before ordering an evacuation, risks of fire-related losses should be weighed against projected losses due to evacuation. Evacuations impact local businesses. The health of the old and infirm is at risk. Low - and even moderate-income families who are already struggling with the extreme cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area now must consider the probability of future evacuations as they decide whether or not to relocate. What are the projected losses in population, and what might be the economic consequences?
Development of a proper fire risk model would cost millions or even tens of millions of dollars. But the combined $11.8 billion loss to the Tubbs and Kincade fires would seem to justify the much smaller cost of learning how to assess fire risks.
A public interest group, Evacuation Why, to give us a start in dealing with issues of fire risk assessment in West Sonoma County. The first order of business is to get all the cards on the table. At least some of the questions that I’ve posed have answers, if we can just get government representatives to speak. Interested citizens can email me at email@example.com or write to me at 465 Stony Point Road, Box 105, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Please be sure to include your name and contact info.
This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the U.S.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken or made as part of an employee's official duties.
The main image map description:
"Neighborhoods across parts of Sonoma County, California, are under evacuation orders, and more are expected as the Kincade Fire continues to spread toward Cloverdale. The wildfire, seen here by NOAA's GOES West on Oct. 24, 2019, grew to 10,000 acres overnight, and wind gusts of 35-45 mph continue to aid its rapid expansion. The Kincade Fire was first reported around 9:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday just northeast of the town of Geyserville, according to a Cal Fire incident report. Early Thursday morning, the County of Sonoma issued a mandatory evacuation order for all Geyserville residents, noting that the fire had crossed Highway 128 near Moody Lane and was spreading westward. Much of the Sacramento area, which is located about 80 miles east of Geyserville, is under a Red Flag Warning until 4 p.m. This means critical fire weather conditions, which include a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures, are occurring or imminent, according to the National Weather Service. This GeoColor enhanced imagery was created by NOAA's partners at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere. The GOES West satellite, also known as GOES-17, provides geostationary satellite coverage of the Western Hemisphere, including the Western United States, the Pacific Ocean, Alaska, and Hawaii. First launched in March 2018, the satellite became fully operational in February 2019."
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