MILL VALLEY (KPIX 5) — Recent California wildfires have caused billions of dollars in damages, and residents in some Bay Area neighborhoods have taken fire prevention into their own hands.
Homeowners and residents in Mill Valley recently participated in voluntary fire evacuation exercises in their neighborhood, where the hillside homes rest in a high fire risk area. Low accessibility to the homes make their situation even more dangerous during fire season.
“We have all these eucalyptus trees and they are very sensitive to fire,” said Jerry van de Beek, one of the participants in the exercise. “So if you get a fire here, there are only certain exit routes, and there aren’t many of them.”
The evacuation drill was the first of its kind, and it was spurred by the devastation caused by the Wine Country wildfires last year just a few miles north. The trend for these neighborhood fire watch drills is one that fire districts are thrilled about.
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“Right now, we have everyone’s attention–and we should. Last year, we had a huge loss property and a huge loss of life. Prior to that, people were not being proactive and engaging how to be better prepared,” said Michael St. John, the battalion chief of Mill Valley Fire’s Southern Marin Fire Protection District.
St. John and his crew are capitalizing on the community engagement, holding wood chipper days, working on new emergency alerts and helping to create new Firewise communities.
He said that people are receptive to the idea because they know that their awareness and engagement could save them or their homes when fire season comes full force.
“It’s less like you are dealing with this on your own–it’s more of a community effort. It becomes much calmer. You feel like you are a little bit more in control, and I think that will help a lot,” said van de Beek.
Firefighters said there hasn’t been a fire in certain parts of Mill Valley since 1929, which means that over a thousand homes are now subject to the next fire.