Distinct, European-style high-low sirens will penetrate the redwoods around Occidental and Camp Meeker Saturday morning, the latest in a series of evacuation drills ahead of fire season. The exercises are designed as much for first responders as they are for local residents.
Two Saturdays ago, it took roughly 20 minutes to evacuate most of the Fitch Mountain area. And 45 minutes for the last stragglers to get out.
Although only about a fifth of residents participated, Jeff Duvall, Deputy Director of the Department of Emergency Management in Sonoma County said it went very well...a success he hopes is repeated Saturday.
Officials are learning what works, and what gaps remain. Duvall said even with new technology, what exists isn't perfect.
"The houses that are sitting on the street, they hear the hi-low sirens loud and clear, but the houses that have that offset, may not hear it, and they're going to hear just a faint sound," Duvall said
Duvall urges residents to sign up for county alerts, keep phones charged and on and use a weather radio for redundancy.
Officials and residents will respond more efficiently with repetition. Even still, the drills are just that.
"One of the things that's missing when we do these exercises is obviously the smoke in the air, the cover of darkness, and just the stress that a person would be under at that moment, knowing that something is happening," Duvall said.
That's also when flight-or-fight instincts take hold.
"I know the natural feelings of trying to stay behind and protect your homestead, but more importantly, take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones and your family members that are there with you, heed those warnings and safely leave the area," Duvall added.
He added that particular dangers lurk for those in areas with just one escape route. A fallen tree or powerline, or car crash can leave an entire neighborhood trapped.