Well, the fires are out, the first responders thanked and gone, and those of us who lost our homes coping as best we can to pick up and move on. It’s been over a month since my wife and I evacuated our home on Atlas Peak Road and I finally have some time to write about some observations regarding the emergency response in the first hour of the tragedy.
Somewhere about 10 PM on October 8 as we were readying for bed my wife smelled smoke. I went out to check and was appalled at the conflagration on the ridge of Atlas Peak. We started running about to pack up and leave. I called neighbors to alert them as they had an obscured view of the ridge while friends from across the valley were calling me to alert me to what they were seeing. I could not reach 911 during this time.
During a few minutes time the field on our neighboring vineyard property caught fire and pushed by the winds quickly raced up the hill. We left immediately and as we reached the bottom of our driveway found our mailbox in flames. There were several fire trucks sitting on the roadway but there had not been any sirens, horns, knocks on doors or loudspeakers alerting residents. As we turned south we encountered a tanker truck near William Hill Winery. I asked the fireman if they could spray down our house.
My question is what was the timeline for the first trucks to roll? What were their orders? I read later that their first goal was to save lives not property but it didn’t seem that they were alerting anyone. Our neighbors around the corner from us on Westgate died in their home from the fire. No Westgate/Silverado residents I’ve spoken to were alerted by the fire department: Self evacuation was the norm. We, like our neighbors, relied on ourselves as there was no one there.
The situation was similar on Soda Canyon Road and Mt. Veeder Road:
Our friend Cindy wrote, ”I can confirm that I received no alert or warning other than the phone call from a friend on Loma Vista at around 10pm. Without that phone call it is unlikely I would have been aware of the fire until it was at my door. None of the neighbors I have spoken to on Soda Canyon Rd. received any warning, other than from friends or neighbors, until a helicopter with a loud speaker flew over Foss Valley. By that time the lower section of Soda Canyon Rd. (from the top of the grade to Silverado Trail) was totally engulfed in flames and the evacuation from Foss Valley was impossible other than by helicopter.”
Again, no one from the top of Soda Canyon Rd. to Silverado Trail, including Loma Vista Rd. and Soda Springs Rd., received any official warning or evacuation notice. Two people died on Soda Springs Rd.
During the appeal hearing on Mountain Peak Vineyard before the BOS, County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said that there was an evacuation route from Foss Valley to Atlas Peak Rd., through private property and locked gates (you’d need bolt cutters). Needless to say there was no escape via Atlas Peak Rd. for anyone who was aware of or knew how to get to this “escape route.”
At 11 PM after arriving a friend’s home on the west side I called the Sheriff’s Department to ask why there were no Nixle alerts to let the public know what was going on. The person answering the phone said something to the effect that they would get to it.
When I served on the Napa County Grand Jury (2007-2008) we observed the public notification system (Reverse 911) while investigating the Napa County Office of Emergency Services. Is this system still in place? Was it used during the Atlas Fire?
Without timely warnings six lives were lost and residents had to evacuate in a panic leaving behind family treasures and important records. The latter is a big issue necessitating hours of effort to remedy.
And then finally we must all realize how lucky our entire community was that the fire was not on Saturday night around the time of the concert at Silverado Country Club as part of the PGA tournament. Following the concert exiting cars were backed up on Hardman all the way from Silverado Trail to Atlas Peak Road. While the PGA arranges for police presence to keep cars from entering Cottage Drive, there were no police expediting traffic onto Silverado Trail following the concert. For future events at Silverado there should be traffic control at Silverado Trail. Had the fire occurred at that time no one could have exited from the affected roadways. One also wonders about other large events on these dead end roads, events our Planning Commission and Board of Supervisor continue to permit regardless of residents’ warnings of the lack of safe egress in such emergencies.
Please leave your own stories in the comment section below.