Is the Tri-Valley ready for a wildfire like Maui’s?

PLEASANTON — Thinking about all the ways a regional disaster could overwhelm local firefighters keeps the chief of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department up at night. The deadly wildfires in Maui, where the historic town of Lahaina was overtaken by flames driven by high winds, is one prime example.

“We are a very well-prepared community, but we are not immune, and we are all seeing that the world is changing,” Fire Chief Joe Testa told the Pleasanton City Council this month. “So I do think a large regional wildfire or a large disaster like an earthquake that overwhelms our area are probably a couple of my biggest concerns.”

Testa voiced them as city officials in Pleasanton said they intend to update the city’s emergency operations plan for the first time in five years. The document lays out how officials should respond to an emergency like a wildfire, from issuing emergency notifications and evacuations to applying for state and federal funding following a disaster.

The plan, which was last updated in 2018, is expected to be revised next year and include new information about the different ways emergency officials say they will notify residents about evacuation orders and other life-saving information, said Tracy Hein, emergency preparedness manager for the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department.

“Something that has been on the top of all of our minds — I think, recently, because of the Maui disaster — and that is community notification,” Hein told the council.

A wildfire driven by strong winds from an offshore hurricane Aug. 8 destroyed the town of Lahaina on Maui, killing at least 115 people. Pictures of the aftermath showed lines of cars that were charred by flames after they got stuck in evacuation traffic. Some people jumped in the ocean to save their lives. Hawaiian officials are investigating the emergency response to the fire. Maui’s top emergency official resigned after facing criticism for not sounding the island’s warning sirens.

Pleasanton Councilwoman Valerie Arkin watched as the news and images from Maui began trickling in.

“I was thinking — first of all — how awful; how devastating for the people,” Arkin said in a recent interview. “But second of all — as a city leader — could that happen here? That level of devastation, with lives lost. Aside from property being lost, all the lives that were lost.”

The Tri-Valley has so far evaded a wildfire disaster the likes of Maui — or, closer to home, the devastating blazes in Oakland, Santa Rosa and Paradise. But thousands of residents in Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin live in areas deemed especially at risk to fire. A draft of the 2023 Tri-Valley Hazard Mitigation Plan shows nearly 15,000 people in Dublin live in what’s called a Moderate Fire Hazard Severity Zone. Cal Fire maps risky areas based on fire fuels, terrain, weather and other factors. About 2,200 people in Pleasanton live in a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone. Nearly 1,000 people in Livermore live in a moderate zone.


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