In 2018, the Camp wildfire roared into Paradise, California. Traffic jammed as people tried to escape.
Roy Thun of the engineering firm GHD says fire evacuations like this one pose huge logistical challenges.
“It can be horrific,” he says. “You’re trying to get people and animals out of harm’s way. At the same time, you’re trying to get first responders into those same areas.”
And communities may not have dedicated staff to direct traffic. So the job is sometimes left to firefighters, which takes them away from fighting the fire.
Thun says these problems are becoming worse as climate change makes wildfires more extreme and more people move into at-risk areas.
So GHD helps create evacuation plans for communities where wildfire is a danger.
The team runs scenarios based on possible fire conditions, including wind direction and sources of fuel, as well as the ways traffic patterns might change during a disaster.
And they help ensure that plans include ways to evacuate people with limited mobility, or who don’t own a vehicle.
“Hopefully if you’re doing it right, you’re eliminating the majority of the panic that occurs when a fire does come upon a community,” Thun says.
Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media