Fire! Is There a Highlands Evacuation Route

A Paradise home burns during the Camp Fire. 
Photo: ABC Action News

Highland Fire Preparation Meeting

Many people were horrified to watch the Camp Fire unfold in Northern California last November. More than 86 people died, 13,900 homes were destroyed and Paradise, a town of 27,000 residents, was decimated.

The question many Palisades Highlands residents want to know is: If there is a Santa Ana wind-driven fire event in the hills above their homes, will they be able to evacuate safely?

This question will be addressed tomorrow, March 19 at 7 p.m. in the Fireside Room at Calvary Christian School, 701 Palisades Dr.

Guest speakers at this Highlands Fire Safety/Preparedness community meeting will include LAFD Fire Chiefs Armando Hogan and Orin Saunders. All are invited, although the focus will be on the Highlands.

The Highlands shares several features of the land and roads that  became an issue in the Camp Fire. At Paradise, first responders were limited by an insufficient number of cellular towers, which resulted in communication difficulties. Cell-phone reception in the Highlands is notoriously bad.

The Camp Fire was initially fueled by high winds driving the fire through dry grass amid sparse pine and oak woodlands. The Highlands is surrounded by brush and grasslands.

One main thoroughfare, Skyway, went into Paradise. One main thoroughfare, Palisades Drive, provides the only access to the Highlands.

Reports later said that even though there was an emergency plan that split the city into evacuation zones, it did not factor everyone leaving at once in an all-enveloping emergency.

According to a December 2018 Guardian story (“Last Day in Paradise: The Untold Story of how a Fire Swallowed a Town”), “The flames were being propelled downslope by gales at speeds of 80 football fields a minute” and winds were lofting embers to areas far in front of the fire.

Local firefighters have often commented, “When the winds are blowing, all bets are off.”

Gridlock developed on the Paradise roadway. Some vehicles ran out of gas or caught fire, making the situation worse, and it was reported that in 2009, the town of Paradise received state money to implement a “road diet” on Skyway.

“As escape became impossible, firefighters elsewhere also tried to help people shelter in place,” the Guardian story reported. “One couple, Diana and Helmut Bredow, and their son were corralled with others into an intersection as firefighters aimed water cannons at the encroaching flames, like soldiers defending a position from attack.”

The fire moved so quickly it trapped senior citizens. Of the 67 deceased identified on Wikipedia, 57 were 65 or older.

Highlands residents hope to have the following concerns answered: 1) Is there a warning reverse 911 in place to warn residents to leave? 2) Is there an evacuation plan in place and what guarantee is there it will be effective? 3) How will senior citizens be helped out of the area? 4) If people have to shelter in place, realistically how many people can be helped? 5) If Palisades Drive is closed for either an accident, fire on the hills or boulders dropping, is there an alternative?

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3 Responses to Fire! Is There a Highlands Evacuation Route

  1. A masterful and thoughtful smmary of the fire safety situation in the Highlands! And excellent questions for LAFD to advise us on Sue. Well done! I will share your article on next Door and with as many authorities as possible!

  2. Stuart says:

    Excellent reporting! Thanks

  3. JACK ALLEN says:

    EVER SINCE THE HIGHLANDS WAS DEVELOPED, I HAVE BEEN CONCERNED ABOUT EVACUATION OF THE RESIDENTS IF A SANTA ANA DRIVEN FIRE HIT THE SURROUNDING AREA. THE PROBLEM ALWAYS HAS BEEN THAT A FIRE COULD JUMP THE ROAD. ONE NEARLY DID A FEW YEARS BACK BUT FORTUNATELY THERE WAS NO WIND TO DRIVE IT. LIKE AN STRONG EARTHQUAKE, IT IS NOT A MATTER OF IT HAPPENING, IT IS ONLY WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN AND THE CAMP FIRE SHOWS US IT WILL. IT IS THE FOLLY OF BUILDING IN WILDLANDS.

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