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Potential Shelters or Safe Zones Identified in Ramona for Next Big Fire

At an evacuation forum, residents were surprised to hear that the Red Cross has identified locations as emergency shelters in Ramona.

One surprise for some residents that came out of Monday's public evacuation forum in Ramona is that the Red Cross may have selected potential shelter sites in Ramona for people in the event of an emergency.

"We're staging relief supplies around the county ahead of time," Kurt Luthye of the Red Cross told about 150 participants in the forum held at Ramona Library.

County Animal Services also has a list of evacuation sites for animals. However, these locations are not common knowledge among Ramona residents.

“It was clear to me that no one in the room knew where these sites are,” said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “It's up to the Red Cross ... to identify these locations ... in the plan.”

Jacob was referring to the evacuation plan for Ramona. Copies of the Community Protection and Evacuation Plan, created as a collaborative effort by several agencies, were available at Monday's forum. To see that plan, click here. The plan specifically states that, "It is not safe to pre-designate shelter sites," and that the responsibility for food and shelter of people in an emergency rests with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. The focus of the forum was on evacuation and little discussion was offered of sheltering in place.

The evacuation plan “is like a phone book,” according to the head of one local group, the Committee for a Better Ramona.

“Seventy-eight percent of people in this town have said [in a survey] that they don't have the plan or don't understand it,” said Ramona attorney at the forum, which was sponsored by Jacob and Sheriff's Lt. Julie Sutton. “We need to know how to get a copy, and we need a one-page plan.”

Firesafe Council of San Diego County helped the Sheriff's Department create a two-sided one-page evacuation document, which has a map on the back.

Krysak, who is the head of Committee for a Better Ramona, said Wellfield Park, Mount Woodson and San Vicente golf courses and the schools could be shelters. He said residents have been very clear in stating they won't leave in the event of another major fire and agencies need to help the town come up with plans to address that scenario. Krysak said he'll be following up to get more information on the potential Red Cross shelters because he hadn't been informed of them.

Jacob said she will follow up on Krysak's ideas.

Monday's forum at included a panel of speakers from various agencies. It was informative and orderly. About 150 people attended, including speakers.

But did it answer many residents' big question: “What exactly do we do in the event of a major fire?”

Ninety percent of residents who responded to a survey by the Committee for a Better Ramona stated that if another disaster such as the Witch Creek Fire occurred, they would stay home to protect their properties rather than evacuate, Krysak told the panel.

That's a major concern to the agencies responsible for safeguarding lives and property. It's also a major concern for property owners.

If residents aren't planning to leave town, what kind of help might be available? Which locations might be used as shelters? And if people do leave town, where exactly would they go?

The consensus expressed by the panel is that fire is dynamic and that dealing with a major firestorm is a “fluid” situation which no one can forecast.

People at the forum heard from County Animal Services representative Laura Ward that there's “a list of horse ranches that might be shelters, but we don't tell the public because we might want people to evacuate instead.” She said her agency answers to the directive of the Sheriff's Department.

Speakers at the panel also represented the County Office of Emergency Services, California Highway Patrol, CalFire, the Reverse 9-11 system, and SDG&E. They talked about the many lessons learned from the historic Cedar Fire of 2003 and Witch Creek Fire of 2007, in which a total of 17 people died.

Jacob commented about how the Witch Creek Fire created “a fiasco here,” with communication and traffic problems in Ramona and other communities.

Everyone agreed that the 2007 fire created conditions that had not been seen in their lifetimes in this area and that agencies were challenged about how to handle it. Residents recalled the traffic flow problems heading down the hill on Highway 67 and weaknesses in communication among agencies.

“We do know one thing: History repeats itself if changes aren't made,” said Kelly Zombro, deputy chief of operations for CalFire in San Diego County. He expressed deep concern about Ramonans wanting to stay to protect their homes. “Australians died protecting their homes. Sorry about the doom and gloom but I'm just wanting to give you a dose of reality.”           

One Ramona resident, Mischa Dobrotin, who lives in east Ramona, said, “The reason we lost our home in 2003 was because we evacuated. We won't be evacuating again.”

In past fire events, Ramonans have used Ramona High School, Ramona Senior Center, Food and Clothes Closet and the K-Mart parking lot to gather and shelter temporarily, according to Cynthia Salow, assistant to the principal at the high school and Ray Cardona, executive director of the senior center.

Ramona Patch will follow up to provide readers with more information about any shelters and evacuation sites that may have been identified.

Joe Minervini May 17, 2011 at 05:04 PM
I appaud Krysak's recent efforts. When I met with Ramona fire officials and Sheriff officials months ago, I asked for them to consider pre-designated shelter-in-place/safety zones. I was told that it would be unsafe for any such zones to be pre-designated because every wildfire reaction is "incident specific." I can understand that.....you could possibly have people going to places that may be in the path of the fire. However, if a shelter in place location was carefully chosen by fire officials, at least there would be a place for evacuees to go to when the highways are gridlocked. No one can predict how most people will evacuate....if all of Ramona decides to leave at the same time, the highways will not handle the numbers and you could have the potential of thousands being stranded on the highway at a standstill with the fire bearing down on them at 60 miles per hour. I ask again that the "Officials" at least have safety zones in mind for a worst case scenario; the officials don't have to publically divulge where these zones would be....but they should at least have shelter in place/safety zones in their Plan. Joe Minervini

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