how to evacuate a city

The weather continues to be favorable for fire fighting, and the Witch Fire is 20% contained. More firefighters and equipment keeps arriving to help us, so prospects look pretty good. Some areas, like Julian, are threatened if the west wind gets too strong and begins pushing the fire back up the mountain.

Here's a photo of the fire at Camp Pendleton as we drove through yesterday. It was burning right next to the San Onofre nuclear power plant, though I don't think the plant itself was ever in danger. There was fire all along the top of the ridge. This fire is a bigger concern than before because it has split into two active fronts, but so far firefighters are keeping the freeway open in both directions.

More than 500,000 people evacuated our homes in San Diego, more than evacuated from Hurricane Katrina, and over ten times as many who evacuated from the Cedar Fire four years ago. I could grumble over being ordered to leave, only to have the authorities change their mind two hours later. Other than being sealed up indoors to keep most of the smoke out, we would have been fine had we ignored the evacuation order. Many did, although to do so is a (misdemeanor) crime.

Police found the bodies of two people who ignored their evacuation order. Property isn't worth that much. Though these fires are much worse than the 2003 fires, the death toll so far is lower. I think a big part of the difference is the reverse 911 calls to order evacuations of specific areas. Reverse 911 even works on cell phones if you register your number with the county so they'll know what geographic area to associate it with.

Our drive to Santa Ana was remarkably smooth, because targeted areas were evacuated one after another, rather than dumping hundreds of thousands of cars onto the roads all at once. That also meant that fire trucks and other emergency vehicles could get through.

I once tried to evacuate from a hurricane in Houston. After four hours in the car, and burning most of my fuel, we were not even close to the city limits, let alone onto an open highway on which we could have escaped the storm. With no gas stations open, and little prospect of outrunning the storm, we turned around and hunkered down at home instead. Evacuating a major metropolitan area is no easy task, and they did a great job here.

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I am a software engineer in San Diego, president of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (spec.org), formerly a mathematician and a violist.

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