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After dozens died in 2017, Santa Rosa residents were prepared when flames returned this week

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

When a loud emergency alert also blasted on her phone, Rose made the decision to leave, though it was an hour before she could find a way out of town. She doesn't drive. "I really relied on a complete stranger," she said.

Most of Santa Rosa remained open for business Monday, with ash flakes drifting out of the overhead smoke, cars driving with their lights on and major stores running air-filtration machines full blast at their entrances.

Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm credited seasoned residents and emergency planners for an unpanicked evacuation. The main road on the fire-side of town became gridlocked midway through the night, but in less than two hours, traffic flowed again.

Police Chief Rainer Navarro called out the entire department at the very start. Navarro said he had more than 130 officers using pre-planned evacuation routes and directing traffic, while others picked up garden hoses to help quench spot fires until outside fire agencies could arrive.

Public warnings and orders to leave began within half an hour of the realization that embers from the Glass fire had kicked off a new blaze headed over Mt. Hood toward Santa Rosa.

 

The action plan differed greatly from that of the Tubbs Fire, when Sonoma County officials delayed warnings out of fear that a mass evacuation would cause panic and block the narrow roads that firefighters needed to access.

"This isn't our first rodeo experiencing this, and I think everyone now understands we have to work together to do this safely and effectively," Schwedhelm said.

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