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Residents review ins and outs of Butte County’s newly proposed evacuation routes

Susie Heffernan stands near one of the county’s newly proposed evacuation maps in Concow, Calif. on May 21, 2024.
Erik Adams
/
NSPR
Susie Heffernan stands near one of the county’s newly proposed evacuation maps in Concow, Calif. on May 21, 2024.

Since mid-April, residents of 10 Butte County communities have had a chance to look over the county’s new proposed evacuation routes and offer suggestions that could improve them.

Many of the gatherings were held in areas of the county with very high fire risk including Cohasset and Forest Ranch. County employees also visited communities still recovering from major destructive wildfires like Concow, which was burned by the 2018 Camp Fire, and Feather Falls, which was burned by the 2020 North Complex.

Residents weigh in

More than a dozen community members showed up to the Concow and Feather Falls events.

Attendees looked over maps on display and talked with county employees and firefighters from Cal Fire about questions and concerns regarding the proposed routes and emergency assembly points.

Paula Daneluk, director of Butte County’s Development Services, was at both meetings. She said the local knowledge from each community is valuable in the county’s planning process.

“This community has been through hell and back, but you hope that everybody puts in their input.”
— Susie Heffernan, Concow resident

“The project has been an open house format, so people can come and go, and then that gives us opportunities to have some really good conversations one-on-one with the citizens and residents that live in the area,” Daneluk said during the meeting in Concow.

Because the residents in the area have experienced so many fires and evacuations over the years, they’ve provided vital details, Daneluk said.

“There’s a wealth of information that the citizens are here sharing with us,” she said.

Susie Heffernan, a resident of Concow, agreed about the experience of those living in the area being important.

The Gold Flake Saloon & Café in Feather Falls, Calif., which was the location of a county-led evacuation map feedback session on May 22, 2024.
Erik Adams
/
NSPR
The Gold Flake Saloon & Café in Feather Falls, Calif., which was the location of a county-led evacuation map feedback session on May 22, 2024.

“This community has been through hell and back," she said, "but you hope that everybody puts in their input."

In Feather Falls some residents were concerned with the quality of certain roads on the proposed map.

“… the main thing is, if that’s our escape route, make it better for us.”
— Debbie Haggard, Feather Falls resident

Lumpkin Road runs from the foothills deep into nearby mountains. Residents noted the rough areas of the road could be an issue in an evacuation.

Sandy Bourasa owns the Gold Flake Saloon & Café, a bar-restaurant in Feather Falls that hosted the meeting. She said the deterioration of some stretches of Lumpkin Road has left some lanes just a few feet wide.

“It is not a safe place to drive,” Bourasa said. “And it surely won't be a safe place to drive in an emergency. It is the only road that we have in and out.”

Debbie Haggard and her husband have lived in Feather Falls since 2015.

“It's pretty straightforward, what we have,” Haggard said of the route. “It's just the main thing is, if that's our escape route, make it better for us.”

Sandy Bourasa, owner of the Gold Flake Saloon & Café in Feather Falls, Calif., stands in its dining area on May 22, 2024.
Erik Adams
/
NSPR
Sandy Bourasa, owner of the Gold Flake Saloon & Café in Feather Falls, Calif., stands in its dining area on May 22, 2024.

The county can take residents’ concerns into consideration and use them to apply for further grant funding to update the county’s evacuation routes, Daneluk said.

Future plans

Patrick Purvis, deputy chief of operations for Cal Fire in Butte County, said the feedback sessions have provided residents with useful information about the region and have helped communities ensure their needs are reflected in the plans.

“When people have the maps printed out, they know what zone they're in,” Purvis said referring to Butte County’s evacuation zone system, “so if an evacuation order is issued for that zone, it allows them to go look at the map and know which zone they’re in if they forget.”

For the past two years, Butte County has been encouraging residents to look up their zones and memorize and save them to their phones, because they’re what the Sheriff’s Office will use to communicate about evacuation warnings and orders.

Patrick Purvis, deputy chief of operations for Cal Fire in Butte County, talks evacuation routes with Concow residents on May 21, 2024.
Erik Adams
/
NSPR
Patrick Purvis, deputy chief of operations for Cal Fire in Butte County, talks evacuation routes with Concow residents on May 21, 2024.

Daneluk said the updated evacuation route maps will be a major resource for residents.

“When we get this project done, we’ll be working with the fire safe council on getting the hard copies out to people as well,” Daneluk said.

The next and final meeting will take place on June 11 in Biggs.

After that, county staff at the Concow meeting told NSPR that they’ll get to work making changes, which are expected by the end of summer.

Residents should refer to the county’s current community evacuation maps until then.

Erik began his role as NSPR's Butte County government reporter in September of 2023 as part of UC Berkeley's California Local News Fellowship. He received his bachelor's degree in Journalism from Cal State LA earlier that year.