More than a video of embers and a bright red sky, the 2018 campfire photo that still haunts me is of cars parked in exit lanes while people desperate to escape are trapped.
The fire destroyed the City of Heaven and killed 85 people in what became the deadliest fire in California history. It’s a tragedy that raises an important question as California’s fire season worsens every year: can we predict the next paradise?
There are several ways to think about it, from looking at the dangers of an area from a major fire to how many escape routes there are.
California officials rated the fire risk in the area as moderate, high, or very high based on vegetation, fire history, and topography. Shown in bright red on the state’s Wildfire Risk Map, more than 2.7 million Californians live in parts of the state that are considered particularly vulnerable.
“These names predict some of the most devastating fires in the state in recent years,” according to a 2019 analysis compiled by several Californian editors that “nearly all paradise is bright red. painted. ”
California is home to more than 75 communities, including Paradise, where at least 90 percent of the population in this high-risk area lives, according to the analysis. Cities with a high fire risk are:
Palos Verdes, Calabasas, La Canada Flintridge, Palos Verdes Estates and Malibu Ranches in Los Angeles County
South Lake Tahoe and Pollock Pines in El Dorado County (both evacuated in recent weeks)
Arrowhead Lake in San Bernardino County
Kensington in Contra Costa County
But there is something else in the story. This list includes locations where a fire is most likely to occur, but does not reflect what will happen after a fire occurs.
The sky had six exits, but rapidly escalating fires closed some and mass evacuations created usable traffic jams.
(It is important to note that, according to an investigation by the Bute County Prosecutor’s Office, while traffic delayed the evacuation to Paradise, less than 10 people died, sat in their cars, and appeared to be trying to escape. Most of those killed were elderly people into their homes. their home.)
According to analysis for 2019, about 350,000 people per capita live in fire areas in California that no longer have an escape route from paradise. Places with relatively few exit routes are:
Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Pacific Palisades, and Rancho Palos Verdes in Los Angeles County
Newbury Park, Oak Park and Moorish Park in Ventura County
Carmel and Jamesburg Valley in Monterey County
Rancho Jamul, Ramona and Scripps in San Diego County
Ursa Major, Minelusa and Sugar Loaf in San Bernardino County
However, there are some important caveats here.
Just because there are exit routes doesn’t mean people use them all. In an emergency, many people tend to choose the road they know best, which can cause congestion on popular out-of-town routes.
That summer, Streetlight Data, an analytics firm in San Francisco, did a slightly different analysis.
The researchers compared exit routes in each community and measured their overall exposure using GPS data from cell phones. This allows them to predict which route people are likely to take during an evacuation.
Streetlight has identified 15 locations in California with more restricted evacuation routes than Paradise, from some of the state’s most expensive closed neighborhoods to remote logging towns.
“It really reduces revenue and space,” said Martin Morzinski, vice president of marketing. “When you smoke there’s a lot going on, what’s with you, people do what they know.”
The five places with the most restricted escape routes are:
Bell Canyon in Ventura County
BrookTrails in Mendocino County
Lake California in Tehama County
North Beach in Riverside County
Coto de Casa in Orange County
After Tim Bram moved there in 1980, three major fires broke out in Bell Canyon, a mountain community of nearly 2,000 people.
Brem, a retired high school teacher, prepares his home every year by cleaning brushes and creating hundreds of feet of sheltered space around his house.
He knew he had two exits from Bell Canyon, but he never used them. He has always refused to defend his property, although he admits that the fire appears to be becoming more militant.
“I always have a practical escape plan: Put the keys in my pocket and my truck will be there in no time,” Bram told me. “If things were going south, I’d get in the truck and drive.”