NEVADA CITY, Calif. January 14, 2019 – Your driveway will be your departure point in case of an evacuation. Let’s make sure you get out of the starting blocks safely.

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.

Can you get out safely?

Don’t let this be your driveway

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?

A driveway during daylight is easily visible and 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?

Consider removing flammable vegetation and trim your trees to avoid a flame tunnel effect. 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, keep the surface barren.

If your driveway includes a bridge, post clear signs with weight limitations.

If a Red Flag Warning is in effect or a fire is burning in the vicinity, park your car facing the roadway. During an evacuation traffic will be dense, avoid an accident just pulling out of your driveway.  Pro Tip: Turn your headlights on!


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.

If you evacuate, leave your gate open to allow for emergency personnel access.

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. Again, headlights on!

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?

In 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.

Photo courtesy Fire Safe Council of Nevada County

You are welcome to keep your wrought-iron or chiseled wood sign, but do 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 maps, it’s time to let go of that misguided notion.

This concludes Week 6 of 25, next Monday will be about safe burn piles.

Find previous stories in our special Ready for Fire Season section.