Access and egress from a home to the street generally starts in a driveway in the rural parts of Nevada County. If a fire broke out at the bottom of your driveway, could you drive out safely or would a flaming wall of vegetation quickly prevent you from leaving and spread towards your home?

fire engine on narrow road
Don’t let this be your driveway

Mother Nature, via the winter storm, may have done some of the clearing for you, but consider removing flammable vegetation and trim your trees to avoid a flame tunnel effect. It’s also easier to shovel snow off the driveway if you don’t have to heave shovelfuls over a hedge… Ten feet on each side of a driveway is the minimal width of a required fuel modification area.

An unpaved driveway needs to be kept clear of all vegetation. Dry grass in the middle of a driveway can easily ignite when in contact with a hot catalytic converter, weed-eat and keep the surface barren. If your driveway includes a bridge, post clear signs with weight limitations.

Any driveway during daylight is easily visible and while you are very familiar with your driveway, emergency responders are not. Can a fire engine or ambulance drive up to your house and turn around – at night, in heavy smoke?

Address signs

In a worst case scenario or a medical emergency, is your address clearly visible from the street – do you have a reflective safety sign with your house address visible from the road? Check on the decorative shrub now draped over the sign and trim it back.

In many recent fires, firefighters spent precious time trying to locate addresses of residents who called 911 needing help with evacuations. In after action reports, the lack of signage is one of the most frequent reasons cited why they could not locate people in need of help in a timely manner.

Reflective sign day and night view
Photo courtesy Fire Safe Council of Nevada County

You are welcome to keep your wrought-iron or chiseled wood sign, just add a metal, reflective sign – for your own safety (it is also a state-wide requirement.)

Order a single or double-sided sign from the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County either by mail or online, directly from their website. Mounting the sign on a metal post or sturdy fence post is recommended.

A word about privacy concerns. Some people are reluctant to “advertise” their address. In the age of online satellite/GIS maps, it’s time to let go of that misguided notion.

Driveway standards

All new construction “shall be served by a driveway,” per Nevada County’s building code. Does your existing driveway have the required 10 ft. minimum width, with one 1 ft. shoulders on each side? Steeper grades (over 16% grade) require wider driveways, and all driveways require a minimum 15 ft. vertical clearance. The full standards can be found here.


In case of a power outage, does your electric-powered gate have a manual backup and can it be operated by all your (adult) family members? As with any equipment, regular maintenance is key to proper operation, especially in case of emergency.

evacuation tag

If you evacuate, leave your gate open to allow for emergency personnel access. You can also attach an Evacuated tag to the gate to save precious time for first responders checking the area. It is understood that some residents may be apprehensive to place a sign like this in front of their homes, believing it could invite criminal activity. The Sheriff’s Office, who oversees evacuations, assures all concerned residents that once an area is evacuated law enforcement will minimize access to those areas. Deputies will then saturate those evacuated areas with patrols.

In gated communities, familiarize yourself with all existing exits and gates, be prepared to deviate from your daily routine in order to evacuate as quickly as possible.

Street parking

If your house does not have a driveway and street parking is your only option, try parking on “your” side of the street wherever possible. Should you need to evacuate, you’ll be able to safely load your essential Ps: people, pets, prescriptions, papers, phone, photos and personal computers. Leave enough space between cars to be able to merge into traffic easily and use your turn signal for extra visibility, especially in dense smoke. Pro tip: headlights on!

Family Emergency Plan

Make a plan

The Family Emergency Plan is an important document in preparing for any type of emergency and evacuation. It will be the basis of your personal “What If” and “How Do We” action plan. During a large wildfire incident if you are asked to evacuate, how do you reassemble your family if some are at work, others at home or school? How do you stay in touch and know everyone’s OK?

Collect the information

  1. How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings? CodeRED, school emergency notifications, local media.
  2. What is my evacuation route?
  3. What is my family/household communication plan?

During a wildfire, communication networks can be overloaded or unavailable. Power outages are likely, further restricting your access to normal communications. Landline phone owners, do you have a phone that does not require power to function? Cell phone users, remember that a text message may go through when a phone call does not. Texts require less bandwidth than a voice call. A simple “I’m OK and at [location]” is great news when family members are separated during an evacuation. Identify an out-of-town contact who can liaise between you and other family members.

Make a plan

Create a paper copy of the contact information for your family and other important people/offices, such as medical facilities, doctors, schools, or service providers. Make sure everyone in your family has a copy of this information with them at all times, ideally both in electronic and paper form. The non-electronic version is critical once devices run out of power, trying to remember phone numbers in an already stressful situation is a hassle you do not need.

Download a copy of the Family Emergency Communications plan, fill it out, print it and post a copy on your refrigerator, in your garage and give a copy to each household member.  

Prepared Not Unprepared

Customize the plan to fit your specific needs. Adults with kids need to plan not only for themselves but incorporate a school’s emergency plan into their own. If you have family members with limited mobility, consider a buddy system with a neighbor to make sure they are able to safely leave the house in your absence.

The best plan is of little value if never tested. Once you have your plan ready, practice. Conduct your own personal drill with all your household members, including your pets. If you have ever tried to put a reluctant cat in a carrier you know this takes more than a minute.

Coming up next Friday: Brush clearing and disposal options, “spring cleaning” the garage or shed and properly disposing of the hazardous waste accumulated.

All the stories in the Getting Ready series so far