Last week was one of the worst for wildfires in recent memory. The Santa Clarita Valley was spared this time around with little loss or damage to structures unlike the horrific images from the Thomas, Creek, and Skirball Fires. The fire that started in Rye Canyon and is known as the Rye Fire was apparently started by downed powerlines.
As the Rye Fire rapidly spread fanned by the winds, the fire was headed towards the West Ranch neighborhood of Westridge. The Los Angeles County Fire chief in charge made the decision on Tuesday morning to order evacuations of West Ranch High School, Rancho Pico Jr. High School, the Oak Hills Elementary School and 1300 homes. According to the fire department, these are not easy decisions to make because they are disruptive to the community. Wildfires are unpredictable and shift directions fast so it is imperative for first responders that they protect life and property by making the right decisions.
There is no question that L. A. County Fire made the right call in ordering evacuations when they did. But, anyone that lives in or knows the Westridge community also knows that there is only one way in and out—Valencia Blvd. Many of the students were bused to College of the Canyons (COC), some walked, others were picked up by parents. Add to that the residents living in the community all trying to leave at the same time and it was somewhat chaotic. Emergencies usually are that way. The important thing is that there was no loss of life or property.
Fortunately, the fire that was headed towards Westridge changed directions, thanks to a shift in the winds, and instead traveled west along the Santa Clara River bed towards Ventura County. A disaster was averted and within hours the evacuation order was lifted.
Yet, there were some complaints that surfaced from a few residents because they were inconvenienced by the traffic and having to pick their child up at COC. One resident felt that the school evacuation should have happened earlier, another thinking it wasn’t needed. This is typically in a community—the second guessing of those in charge. You can’t second guess the professionals. Instead, you need to follow the directives and believe that they have the experience to know best.
That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. There always is and should be a tweaking of community plans. What the Rye Fire highlighted was a need to look at the West Ranch community holistically and put an evacuation plan in place. One that is crafted with the local SCV Sheriff Station, California Highway Patrol, and L.A. County Fire Departments. It must be a plan that can be communicated to the entire community.
The Stevenson Ranch neighborhood already has an evacuation plan, which was recently revised, but the other areas of West Ranch do not. This is something that the West Ranch Town Council indicated at their most recent meeting that they will be tackling in the coming months. Having a plan is great, but if no one knows about it than that plan is ineffective. The key will be to make sure that every resident is aware of what to do when an evacuation order is issued.
The West Ranch Town Council meeting is on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Attend and be part of the solution.
Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season.