In case of an evacuation, you’ll likely drive to an evacuation shelter or your predetermined evacuation location. Getting there safely is a primary goal.

Driving through smoke or even flames on the roadside, the roar of a fire, coupled with the adrenaline rush of having to get to safety is not your everyday commute. Prepare your vehicle ahead of peak fire season – and practice driving in unusual conditions like dense fog, at night.

Cars waiting to evacuate
Photo taken by Seth Rosmarin during the Camp Fire.

Vehicle maintenance is a must

Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition. Brakes in good working order, all fluids topped off and properly inflated tires keep you and others safe. Check your spare tire for proper inflation as well!

Working headlights and wipers in good condition, coupled with a topped-off wiper fluid reservoir will make the trip through the smoke easier. Remember, if your wipers are going, your headlights must be glowing – it’s the law. That’s also important during winter or rainy season.

Red Flag Days

During peak fire season, the National Weather Service will declare Red Flag Days or Fire Weather Watch Days. These warnings are based on temperature, humidity levels and winds. The potential for a fire to ignite and spread rapidly is especially high during these days.

Take extra precautions:

  • Have a full tank of gas
  • Park your car facing the road. During an evacuation traffic will be dense, avoid an accident just pulling out of your driveway.  Pro Tip: Turn your headlights on!

Driving during a wildfire

Fire engine in an emberstorm at night during the Camp fire
This photo was taken by Firefighter Bill Tangren, a firefighter with Peardale Chicago Park Fire, part of the Nevada County Strike Team assigned to the Camp Fire.
  • If you receive an emergency notification or law enforcement/first responders tell you to evacuate, leave immediately.
  • Even if you are not under an evacuation order but feel unsafe in your home given the fire direction, leave.
  • Slow down. Defensive driving is the safest way to make it out. Don’t tailgate.
  • Drive predictably, use turn signals.
  • Watch for wildlife and livestock. Animals will flee any fire, just like humans.
  • Roll up your windows and if you use the air conditioning, set it to recirculate.
  • Watch for obstacles in the road like trees and down power lines.
  • Move over for emergency vehicles. While you are trying to get out, they are on their way to the fire.
  • If you are sitting in the car for a long time due to heavy traffic, crack a window to relieve the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the passenger cabin. Use a bandanna or a N95 respiratory mask to prevent inhaling too much particulate mater.
  • Watch the temperature gauges. Outside temperature and air saturated with particulate matter, combined with embers can overheat or stall your vehicle. Again, leave early.
  • Follow the instructions given by emergency personnel and respect road closures.

After getting to your destination

Don’t wipe off ash from your car, it can easily scratch paint. Thoroughly wash your car with water and soap, simply hosing it off can release chemicals in the ash.

Check the air filters. After driving through smoke for a prolonged period of time, the particulate matter can clog the filters and render them inoperable or less effective.

Go Bag in your car

An emergency supply kit in your car should contain the same items as your primary kit, especially if you leave home every day.

Have your emergency contact list, including contact information for your insurance provider and towing company in your car.

Neighborhood awareness

Your neighborhood, the familiar landscape you see every day. How well do you know it and what can you do to improve it?

Knowing your neighborhood

Next time when you sit in the passenger seat, instead of looking at the road, look up. Are trees leaning over the roadway or power and phone lines crossing overhead? Then, look around.

A rural road during a 2017 fire.
A rural road during a 2017 fire.

Most of us drive the same familiar route every day to get home. Take a few hours and identify alternate routes if possible. Depending on the direction and rate of spread of a fire, your normal way out may be blocked. Ideally, drive the alternate routes both during day and nighttime. Wildfire smoke obscures the sky rapidly and you could be driving through dense smoke with almost no visibility.

Are there wooden fences that could catch fire easily and block the road, brush or trees restricting the roadway? Do you have a clear view of oncoming traffic,  can you see traffic coming towards the intersection? How many side streets or connecting roads on your way out of the neighborhood?

Should you have fire hydrants in your immediate vicinity, consider “adopting a fire hydrant” and clear vegetation around it.

If you live on a county-maintained road and have concerns about roadside vegetation or signage/striping, you can submit a service request through the county’s website. Nevada County’s Egress/Ingress Fire Safety Project will remove hazardous vegetation along 200 miles of County-maintained roads using both County road crews and contract forces. You can find more information here. The county’s right of way is fairly narrow, but nothing prevents a property owner from clearing further away from the roadside.

On private roads, pooling resources to maintain the road and clear brush can be done through a road association. As always, talking to your neighbors is the best first step.

Pattern recognition

The more familiar you are with your neighborhood, the easier it will be to notice a change in wind/smoke direction, identify possible bottlenecks during an evacuation and do something about them – as a neighborhood.

Make sure your neighbors are signed up for emergency alerts

Talk to your neighbors about emergency preparedness, especially if they are new to the area. Ask if they signed up to receive emergency alerts through CodeRED, and encourage them to do so here: If they need signup assistance, contact 211 Connecting Point by dialing 2-1-1 or 1-833-DIAL211.

Recommend they add CodeRED’s two phone numbers 1(866) 419-5000 and 1(855) 969-4636 to their cell phone and/or landline contacts as “CodeRED Emergency Alerts.” When receiving a phone call from either of those phone numbers during an emergency, they’ll recognize the call as a CodeRED alert rather than a telemarketer. It’s also a good idea to add these two numbers to the emergency contacts to receive alerts even when your phone is in Do Not Disturb mode.

Truckee Police Department and the Truckee Fire Protection District use the Nixle Everbridge Emergency Alert System as the primary method of communication during critical incidents. Residents and visitors are encouraged to subscribe to Nixle Everbridge Alerts to stay informed in the event of an emergency. 

Register for Nixle via the Everbridge Mobile App: 

  1. From your mobile device send “APP” to 888-777 to receive a link to download the Everbridge Mobile App. 
  2. Download, install, and open the app. 
  3. Find an Organization or Subscription. Type in 96161 and subscribe to Truckee Police Department and Truckee Fire Protection District.

Monitor local media too. Code Red and Nixle emergency alerts only work when cell phone towers and telephone lines are working. There is no guarantee you will receive an alert during an emergency.

If you’d like, you can also sign up for YubaNet’s emergency text alerts – in case of a large incident developing, we’ll try to supplement the county’s alerts and share the latest information with you.

Amplify official alerts with a phone tree/buddy system

Several neighborhoods, often with the help of their local Firewise Community, are setting up neighborhood alert systems. Phone trees or more elaborate “buddy systems” – where a group of people will alert and check on each other in case of emergency – are one way to supplement the official emergency alerts and make sure everyone has time to leave safely. More densely populated neighborhoods are even contemplating sirens or reflective signage on roadways. If this makes sense in your neighborhood, have a neighborhood meeting or get involved in your local Firewise Community.

Invite the neighbors and have a free defensible space advisory visit

The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County offers free defensible space advisory visits by trained volunteers. Invite your neighbors to join up for a visit and learn about defensible space. You’ll also learn about the various programs the Fire Safe Council has to help your neighborhood become more firesafe.

Consider car pooling in an emergency

Once an evacuation order is given, don’t wait – leave immediately. Your Go Bag will be ready and you practiced getting your family and pets safely out of the house. Do you have room for more people in your vehicle? Consider carpooling with neighbors, especially seniors. Fewer cars on the road means less congestion and less risk of accidents.

Neighborhood work parties

Cutting roadside brush on private roads, pulling Scotch Broom, helping an elderly neighbor deal with an overgrown property are only some ideas for work parties. Working together for the common good also beings benefits for you – the safer the neighborhood, the safer you are too.

If you are still cleaning up from the winter storm in your neighborhood, take advantage of the Free Storm Green Waste Disposal weekends.

Next week, time for the Family Emergency Plan!