Officials disagree on responsibility for evacuation planning in Marin County, California

Marin County fire history 1917-2020
Marin County fire history 1917-2020. The blue areas were all prior to 1980. NIFC map.

Many residents and government officials in Marin County recognize the importance of evacuation planning, but there is no agreement on which agency has the responsibility. In March voters approved a parcel tax that would raise about $19 million each year for the newly formed Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority (WPA), but the county’s Civil Grand Jury ruled in December that the agency’s plans do not adequately address the issue.

Marin County map
Marin County, outlined in red. (Google)

From the Marin Independent Journal:

Part of that funding will go toward studying evacuation routes, creating evacuation maps and clearing vegetation along narrow Marin roads. But the agency does not have the authority or the funding to take on infrastructure projects that could create safer roads for people fleeing wildfires, the grand jury said.

“The grand jury is concerned that Marin’s public may have a false sense of security regarding evacuation routes, thinking that all issues relating to the matter will be handled by the new government agency,” the report says.

While Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber agreed that the wildfire authority doesn’t have the funding to take on road infrastructure projects, he said the agency is taking the initial step in addressing Marin’s evacuation safety problem.

Marin County, population 258,826, is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge north to Bodega Bay and east to Novato and San Pablo Bay.

Evacuation planning will likely point out a need for road infrastructure projects, for which the WPA does not have funding. The Transportation Authority of Marin, or TAM, is the only agency in the county with access to funding and authority over countywide transportation projects. The grand jury recommended that a representative from TAM serve as a non-voting member of the WPA.

Marin County evacuation choke points
Marin County Civil Grand Jury, Wildfire Preparedness: A New Approach, Appendix C, April 25, 2019.

Fire officials in Marin County have identified “choke points” where residents are likely to get caught in congestion when evacuating from wildfires. Since many of those run through multiple jurisdictions, the grand jury said TAM should serve as the coordinating agency but TAM officials “continue to deny that the agency has any role or responsibility for considering evacuation needs in its transportation projects.”

Community infrastructure and planning was one of the six categories of actions Wildfire Today pointed out in April, 2019 that must be taken to reduce the impact of wildfires on communities. That category includes:

  • Distance to nearby structures
  • Evacuation capability and planning
  • Safety zones where residents can shelter in place
  • Road and driveway width, wide enough for large fire trucks
  • Turnarounds at the end of roads
  • Signage, and
  • Emergency water supply.

The other five categories that need to be considered in fire-prone communities are home spacing/lot size; envelope of the structure itself; home ignition zone; wildland-urban interface; and fire codes.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

2 thoughts on “Officials disagree on responsibility for evacuation planning in Marin County, California”

  1. Perhaps looking at some statistics of the number of deaths and injuries per fire, combined with traffic studies projecting worst-case and best-case evacuation speed, probabilities of weather potential (wind and fire direction and speed, spot fire, etc.) might be worthwhile.

    Switch “shelter in place” to “shelter AND DEFEND in place?w”

  2. Sorry to say, I don’t have much faith in evacuations unless they are undertaken early. There are too many people who simply will not move or get out of the way. Every time I’m watching such people I wish I had a loader with a set of forks, to pick up their vehicle and gently place it off the road so others can get moving. Convoys involve many vehicles moving together. If one breaks down or has a panic attack, it gets pushed out of the way and the army keeps moving.
    When moving a large mass of people (think: an army) SOMEbody needs to assume the authority to clear the road.

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