2015 Paradise downtown street project reducing 4 lanes to 2, may have created dangerous evacuation bottleneck during #CampFire

The ironically titled “Downtown Paradise Safety Project” may have created a deadly evacuation bottleneck.

We have all seen videos of the horror of the exodus from the town of Paradise, CA during the November 8th, 218 #CampFire, with many people reporting gridlock like conditions that caused them to abandon vehicles and run on foot from the fire.

When I lived in Paradise between 1989 and 1994, I worried about the potential for a firestorm and evacuation disaster, and when the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 happened, I remember being on my property off Nunneley Road, and hearing the dry north wind howling in the trees. I knew then that it would not take much to create a wildfire disaster there just like in the Oakland Hills. It was then that I decided to move back to Chico.

That was back in the time before the “North escape route” was completed via the old Forest road 171, which was finally straightened and paved in 2013. According to the Chico Enterprise Record:

The Upper Skyway was a twisting gravel road between Inskip and Butte Meadows in 2008, when the Humboldt Fire burned into Paradise. Residents and local officials had been agitating for years to get the road improved to a level that a typical passenger car could navigate it, without success.

But the fire that burned 74 homes in southern Paradise and at one point closed all the roads out of town to the south, emphasized the need for another way off the ridge.

The Humboldt fire closed the escape roads going downhill south from Paradise, and that was the impetus to finish the north “escape route” road, but perhaps in doing so, residents and town officials may have lulled themselves in a false sense of safety, so much so, that they created a deadly bottleneck on the major southbound escape road, the “Skyway”, impeding the evacuation.

From the Sacramento Bee story ‘The whole town’s on fire’: Butte wildfire grows to 20,000 acres as residents flee on foot

“There were flames to the left of me and flames to the right,” said Wendell Whitmore, a 62-year-old resident who tried to drive out of Paradise on Bille Road at around 9 a.m. “The flames were up in the trees, all the houses were on fire. The fire was three feet from my car. The rubber around the windows was melting. That’s when I decided to get out.”

Whitmore said he abandoned his 2005 Subaru Outback just as another motorist backed into him and the fire began burning under the hood of his car. He and others ran toward Skyway looking for safety as police shouted orders to get out.

By then, he said, it had taken him two hours to drive three quarters of a mile on two-lane Bille Road, where he estimated 40 cars were abandoned in front of him and another 150 were behind him.

When he made it to Skyway on foot, he saw thousands of cars trying to drive six across to get out.

Here are some examples from newspaper photographers of vehicles abandoned along the Skyway.

PARADISE, CA – NOVEMBER 09: Abandoned vehicles line the main artery in Paradise, Calif., Friday, November 9, 2018, the day after many fleeing residents were trapped by the overwhelming flames of the Camp Fire. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
PARADISE, CA – NOVEMBER 09: Abandoned vehicles line the main artery in Paradise, Calif., Friday, November 9, 2018, the day after many fleeing residents were trapped by the overwhelming flames of the Camp Fire. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

The major evacuation artery, the “Skyway” became un-driveable, and became a death trap for people further up because traffic came to a standstill. From the San Jose Mercury News:

It’s the terror, the sheer terror of being stuck in a vehicle in bumper to bumper traffic with flames closing in and nowhere to go that haunts them most.

On the main road that locals affectionately called “the Skyway to Paradise,” many of those trapped in the nerve-wracking slow-motion evacuation Thursday morning said their goodbyes, whispered their prayers and wondered, is this the end?

You may have heard that some people that could not get to major evacuation arteries, and burned to death in their cars. Over 200 people are still missing as of this writing.

We all ask, why? Why did the evacuation turn into a standstill traffic jam?

The mayor of the town, who has come under fire for the problems with the evacuation, said this after the first town council meeting held after the fire, in the council chambers of Chico, CA: (bold mine)

Paradise residents held a town hall meeting in nearby Chico Tuesday evening, with Paradise City Hall out of commission with no running power or water.

Emotions ran high at the first such meeting since the historic wildfire began.

Paradise resident Michael Orr called for Mayor Jody Jones’ resignation, blaming her for a chaotic evacuation and a death toll in the dozens and still climbing.

“Well people died, yes. It did not go perfectly,” Jones remarked to CBS San Francisco after the meeting. “I don’t know that we could have had a plan that was better, though. The reason we couldn’t get everyone out is because you can’t fit 26,000 people on the roads all at the same time.”

Yes, there’s some truth to that, but what many people don’t know is that when Jones was vice-mayor in 2014, she supported a plan that reduced the major evacuation artery, the Skyway from 4 lanes to 2 lanes in the downtown Paradise business district.

Tragically, that may have led to an evacuation bottleneck during the Camp Fire, which resulted in people fleeing their own cars, because they could run faster than they could drive.

Compare these two Google Earth aerial photos of downtown Paradise from 2014 and 2018 to see what happened in the downtown business district:

Figure 1 Aerial view from Google Earth from May 27th, 2014 showing downtown Paradise, CA section of the Skyway. Note that it is 4 lanes. Annotations by Anthony Watts (click to enlarge)
Figure 2 Aerial view from Google Earth from April, 2018 showing downtown Paradise, CA section of the Skyway. Note that it is now 2 lanes, and curb extensions exist to create parking lanes. Annotations by Anthony Watts (click to enlarge)
Figure 3 Aerial view looking North from Google Earth from April, 2018 showing downtown Paradise, CA section of the Skyway. Note that it is now 2 lanes, and curb extensions exist to create parking lanes. Annotations by Anthony Watts (click to enlarge)

Here is a graphic I prepared from a Google Earth Street view (location noted in figure 3) that shows the reduction of 4 lanes to 2 to add parking spaces, and block the outside lanes with corner curb extensions, known as “bulb-outs”. The view is of the same section of downtown:

Figure 4 Google Earth Street View of downtown Paradise, CA in April 2018, at the intersection of Skyway and Honey Run Roads. Annotation by Anthony Watts.(click to enlarge)


Figure 5 Aerial view from Google Earth showing the sections of the Skyway where it was converted to 2 lanes from 4 lanes in 2015. Historically, Skyway had been 4 lanes all the way to Billie road, where it reduced to two lanes. The new downtown parking lane additions created a choke point for southbound, downhill escape traffic. Annotations by Anthony Watts (click to enlarge)

In an April 2016 story in the Paradise Post, there was this telling description of the changes that occurred in 2015 to reduce Skyway from 4 lanes to 2 lanes in the downtown business district:(bold mine)

A bit of overnight work and, ta-da, downtown Skyway has a second northbound lane. Crews from Chrisp Company got to work Thursday night to change the road for better traffic flow. The change is in answer to complaints of bottleneck traffic and drivers using parking spaces as a travel lane.

The extra lane starts at Wildwood Lane, crosses Elliott Road and connects to the existing two-lane road in front of the Paradise Veterans Hall.

From there, Skyway remains two lanes until northbound Bille Road, and then it is a single lane up through the Upper Ridge.

Historically, Skyway was two lanes in both directions, though traffic flow became such that Paradise officials likened the road to having a freeway running through the middle of town. The town’s solution was to restripe the road to force traffic to slow down.

By the end of 2014, the town completed a project that eliminated the four-lane configuration in favor of a three-lane configuration – one lane in each direction and a turn lane.

According to reports from the Town of Paradise, the project did reduce traffic speed and injury accidents, but also caused congestion.

The biggest problem was near the Skyway and Elliott Road intersection.

Some drivers would simply use the on-street parking spaces as a way to drive past the long line of cars waiting at the traffic light.

After some careful study, the town opted to eliminate those on-street parking spaces and convert them to a legal driving lane.

Unfortunately, elsewhere on the Skyway downtown business district section, and as we see in the Figures 1-4 Google Earth photos, those parking spaces remained.

You’d think the city planners, and council members would have had a clue back then, that the lane reduction that “caused congestion” would be a huge liability in the event of a fire evacuation, something both residents and town officials worried about for decades. Perhaps with the completion of the “north escape road” in 2013 they lulled themselves into a sense of escape route adequacy?

In the 2015 report presented to the Paradise Town Council ironically titled Downtown Paradise Safety Project, nobody was discussing fire evacuation issues. Instead, they were discussing things like pedestrian safety, and additional parking,

They seemed oblivious to the danger they created with this comparison in slide 13 from the report:

Full slide show is available here: https://www.townofparadise.com/index.php/forms-and-documents/public-works/1332-dpsp-annual-report-presentation-slides/file

You can watch the meeting where they presented the report here on YouTube:

You don’t have to be a certified civil engineer to know that if you reduce 4 lanes to 2 lanes, you are going to cause traffic congestion, and in the event of a fire evacuation, that’s going to create an additional dangerous bottleneck that will impede the evacuation.

Further, it seems mind-boggling to me, that they traded some non-injury fender bender accidents during 5pm rush hour, and additional parking spaces for an unimpeded 4 lane evacuation route.

It seems a clear case of failure to remember what the worst case scenario could be, and when it came, people died.

I’m sure the lawyers will sort it out.

Note: While I’m officially “on hiatus” awhile, I wrote this story while suffering from insomnia, due to the stress that the #CampFire has caused me, and my employees that lost their homes. I felt I had to tell this story, because I had remarked to the general manager of KPAY radio (where I do weather reports) on the morning of November 8th, that “if they don’t get the Skyway opened up to 4 lanes, people are going to be burned alive in their cars”. This issue was firmly on my mind then. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. – Anthony





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November 15, 2018 4:58 am

Anthony , thanks for keeping us updated .


“I knew then that it would ( wouldn’t ?) take much to create a wildfire disaster there just like in the Oakland Hills.”

“That was back in the time before the “North escape route” was completed via the old Forest road 171, which was finally straitened ( straightened ) and paved in 2013. ”

Auto correct does not always play nice !

Reply to  Marcua
November 15, 2018 5:16 am

“Marcus” , not Marcua…. D’OH !

Reply to  Marcus
November 15, 2018 5:32 am

LOL! It’s a ‘Monday’ disguised as a Thursday.

Steve R.
Reply to  Marcus
November 15, 2018 5:52 pm

oh my…
Live by the grammer police/Die by the grammer police.

Pete Olson
Reply to  Steve R.
November 16, 2018 4:05 am

Uhh… Grammar.

Reply to  Marcua
November 16, 2018 4:22 am

Anthony, thanks for the heads up on traffic in that area, and what appear to be some “clever ideas” that lead to disastrous failures.

It’s also a heads up for someone like me, who lives in a pleasant area with low traffic, to realize how easily you can become trapped by something over which you have no control.

Thanks, and stay safe!

Tasfay Martinov
November 15, 2018 5:00 am

For state decision-makers it’s clearly more important that people don’t emit CO2 than that they don’t die in forest fires.

Reply to  Tasfay Martinov
November 15, 2018 6:15 am

As if dying in a fire doesn’t emit CO2.

*I would laugh at the absurdity of that premise if it weren’t so true on many levels*

November 15, 2018 5:10 am

“Norovirus outbreak reported at shelter for Camp Fire evacuees”


Wow, these people just can’t get a break.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Marcus
November 15, 2018 11:27 am

[snip – inappropriate comment in light of people suffering -mod]

November 15, 2018 5:33 am

Why weren’t the parked cars yanked, pushed or whatever, out of the way, the road opened to 4 lanes OUT only? I’ve seen evacuation photos where both sides of an interstate highway was opened to outbound traffic, no incoming. That seemed like a very smart idea. Maybe this did happen and I just haven’t seen any photos or video.

In Wyoming, people just drive wherever necessary to get out. We don’t have the buildings and trees in the way in some places, but driving across the prairie, private property if necessary, fence-cutting, etc are all standard. For decades, there was one road out. Now the wind plant has a gate that shuts it off to the east. People will just cut fences and drive out anyway they can, gate or no gate. Roads and fences don’ t matter when your life is threatened. (I know this is not very practical in forested areas.)

None of this excuses the narrowing of the only escape route, of course. Also, thank you for this article. It was quite informative.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Sheri
November 15, 2018 6:49 am

The city of Paradise rather callously used hard curbs, if one looks at the bump-outs reducing the road width. City planners and other greens don’t like people much.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Tom Halla
November 15, 2018 9:22 am

As an alternative, the city could have used removable posts instead of bumpouts. The posts could then be removed in an emergency to widen the road. I think the problem is that the city government was in denial about the risk of a major fire and never thought about contingency plans.

Ben of Houston
Reply to  Tom Halla
November 15, 2018 9:55 am

No, they were thinking about the 99%. It’s an easy trap to fall into. However, they should know that you design for the 1%

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Ben of Houston
November 15, 2018 1:15 pm

^^Road Designer.
We design for the 85%, but make provision for the other 15%.

Oddly; a 2 lane road has only a small increase in traffic flow. It doesn’t double it. Maybe in the order 15-25% more traffic.

jd houston
Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
November 16, 2018 4:04 pm

greg: sorry this is incorrect. A 2 lane road’s capacity is what matters not day to day traffic flows. (which is dependent on the users). A lane with no traffic signals or stops can carry 1900 cars per hour. two lanes can carry twice as much. ( a signalized lane might be around 800 cars per hour because of a 30 second light). A 2 lane can have a small net change if there is not a lot of congestion to begin with. But it can also eliminate congestion (road capacity saturation goes down).

Steve R.
Reply to  Ben of Houston
November 15, 2018 5:55 pm

Its all too easy for city commissioners to ignore or over ride engineer’s recommendations.

Reply to  Sheri
November 15, 2018 8:55 am

Exactly, in time of need like that, no backyard fences or anything like that should stop you.
Just drive through and get out. Probably not in a Prius however.

Reply to  Sheri
November 17, 2018 3:43 pm

They needed the in-bound lanes for emergency equipment.

Weird coincidence. I was in Paradise about two weeks ago and phoned my wife regarding a premonition I had regarding fire, how hard it would be to evacuate, and how rapid the spread would be. Later that week I visited my optician and gave him my frames for new lens installation. Guess where the lab is/was – Paradise, CA…

November 15, 2018 5:34 am

Anthony, I’d like to elect you to something. Your common sense and integrity would be such a contrast to the norm.

“The trouble with common sense is that it is so uncommon.” -Voltaire (paraphrased)

Ethan Brand
November 15, 2018 5:42 am

Excellent, thank you Anthony for putting your insomnia to good use!

I am sure we will see this splashed all over the MSM../sarc off

November 15, 2018 5:45 am

You would think there would be requirements for evacuation routes that would forbid anything that would restrict traffic flow. After a quick google, I can’t find anything like that other than a brief comment about the Federal Highway Act of 1956. That astounds me.

Reply to  commieBob
November 17, 2018 3:46 pm

CalTrans is in full-blown “traffic circle” mode here in NorCal. The design radius is too tight for tractor-trailer combos like the ones that deliver the dozers to fire events. They stipulate an elevated center that blocks vision across the intersection. No one in the USA knows how to navigate a traffic circle so they become a massive logjam.

November 15, 2018 5:54 am

How many electric cars were burned and did they burn in the same way a gasoline car burns ?

And if you don’t regularly practice an evacuation it will always be a big chaos.

November 15, 2018 6:01 am

Urban planning at it’s finest. It is well known that to create a more pleasant shopping experience that one has to both reduce the amount of vehicles AND slow their speeds down. Simply a no brainer to reduce the lanes from 4 to 2 and force traffic flow with the curb outs to ensure that the maximum amount of eyeball time is on the businesses.

Joe Born
Reply to  Flaken
November 15, 2018 6:13 am

Exactly. My experience with urban planning is that its practitioners tend to be unthinking votaries of the density-is-good-and-cars-are-bad cult.

I personally hate driving, lived most of my adult life without a car, and in my dotage bike about a hundred miles a week. But it’s clear to me that all this sacrificing car lanes to bikes and emphasizing greater transit subsidies makes us poorer.

Reply to  Flaken
November 15, 2018 6:14 am

Can’t the people behind this project be prosecuted for murder?

Steve R.
Reply to  Robertvd
November 15, 2018 5:56 pm

No, they cannot be prosecuted for murder.

Reply to  Steve R.
November 15, 2018 11:53 pm

But the might be prosecuted for manslaughter or negligent homicide.

Reply to  Flaken
November 15, 2018 6:33 am

For the same reason there should be nothing that could fall on the road and blockade the escape route like big trees , electricity or telephone posts etc

Reply to  Flaken
November 15, 2018 6:38 am

“Urban planning at it’s finest.”
I must have missed something somewhere. I have never understood the urban planning notions that slowing down drivers, causing needless delays, frustrating people, making people angry and upset, causing people to seek alternate routes would all come together to make the people enthusiastic shoppers and make the cash registers sing. Unfortunately, I have seen many examples of just this kind of thinking, with the predicted traffic headaches, and Wall Mart stores prospering just out of the congested areas.
Unfortunately, stupid people do not just make a mess of traffic flows, they also get people killed.

As a counterpoint:
In New England, southern Maine, there is the town of Kittery.
The place is a *Huge* shopping mecca, for whatever reasons. Many “Shop Till You Drop” types consider a trip to the Kittery outlets to be a Must-Do. A Big favorite day trip over the Labor Day holiday is a shopping expedition to the town. Many 100,000s come for the weekend every year. Even the tour buses get into the act.
So how are the roads?
All the big stores are located on Rt. 1, which has been widened, expanded and improved until it looks like an Interstate. The town and the state have done all they could to be sure they could handle the massive crowds easily and skillfully.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  TonyL
November 15, 2018 4:23 pm

The urban designers live in a utopian world. Their focus is on pedestrian amenity, as well as fresco dinning (without the vehicle noise). Their idea is to discourage car usage and encourage pedestrian amenity.

Yea, I actively avoid areas like this because you can’t park within a kilometre of the place, and it’s too crowded when you do go there. But apparently a lot of people like it like that.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
November 15, 2018 5:26 pm

I met a traffic planner once. He was hitching a lift in my car because he only had a bike.

When you realize that they’re ideologues who don’t even live the way that the vast majority of people do, everything they ‘plan’ makes sense. Communists hate private transport, because it allows people to travel without permission.

But the real problem is with the very idea of ‘urban planning’. The people who live in an area are much better at figuring out how to live there together than any government can be.

Reply to  Flaken
November 15, 2018 8:55 am

This sort of urban planning nonsense has been going on for the past decade in Los Angeles, via a plan proposed by the mayor called Vision Zero, which is a goal to have zero traffic fatalities in LA. The biggest part of this initiative is “road diets” where they restripe and rebuild major arteries to take away at least one or more driving lanes on each side to create bicycle and parking. While not as dangerous as what happened in Paradise, it did create a massive scandal in 2017 when LA decided to rework a segment of Lincoln Blvd (CA-1) just south from LAX down to the cities of Marina del Rey and Playa Vista and across to Venice. This is some of the most congested dense sections of LA already and the former 4+ lane boulevard (some stretches could be up to 6 lanes) was reduced to one lane in each direction. Instantly commute times exploded to 2 hours and more, nearly 20 businesses closed due to customers and vendors unable to reach them. After 4 months, the citizens revolted and set about to recall the local councilman and the mayor, at which time they relented and restored Lincoln to a major artery. However, it hasn’t stopped the mayor from pushing this boneheaded idea to other parts of the city. So far, nobody has been killed due to Vision Zero but it’s just a matter of time.

Reply to  Rhee
November 15, 2018 1:11 pm

Los Angeles already has a plan in place, it’s called Mobility Plan 2035.


What a terrible idea.

Reply to  Flaken
November 15, 2018 9:23 am

Our city counsel has embraced these types of “Traffic Calming” measures. As our city is very unlikely to need a major evacuation, it probably doesn’t matter that much. It is just really annoying.

Allan MacRae
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
November 15, 2018 10:05 am

I agree with you Jeff.

Recent examples of traffic planning in Calgary lead one to believe there is a serious case of collective mental illness within the traffic planning department.

Richard Patton
Reply to  Allan MacRae
November 15, 2018 8:34 pm

I drove through Calgary on Route 1 in 1970 and could not believe that I had to drive through downtown, there were no bypasses or freeways. I went through there again four years ago and I **still** had to travel through downtown on Route 1, still no bypasses. What is with your city officials? Nearly four hours to get through the city when you could have a freeway/bypass which even during rush hour would cut it down to two hours max.

Steve Keppel-Jones
Reply to  Richard Patton
November 16, 2018 10:43 am

“What do you mean, why’s it got to be built? It’s a bypass! You’ve got to build bypasses!” 🙂

We don’t have any bypasses in Ottawa either. Nation’s capital no less…

Eric Stevens
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
November 15, 2018 11:56 am

The same thing is happening here in Auckland. There is a new development (Hobsonville) near where I live where some of the streets are so narrow that it is debatable whether or not a fire appliance could get down them to fight a fire if it occurred.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Eric Stevens
November 15, 2018 12:41 pm

That narrow roads problem affected the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. The roads there, though, dated from the 1920’s, and were further narrowed by parked cars.

lyn roberts
Reply to  Eric Stevens
November 15, 2018 2:52 pm

Don’t worry, Eric, brand new very trendy new development called North Lakes, here in North Brisbane, same problem. If you as a visitor and or home owner park on the grass verge to keep the road clear you get fined. Disaster just waiting to happen, if a house caught fire or an ambulance needed to get through in the middle of the night, they have to rouse the neighbours to shift cars off the road. Somebody is going to die, hopefully it will be somebody wealthy enough to sue the pants off the planners, councils and the authorities who have been fining people trying to be sensible and parking far enough off the road to give emergency services access.

November 15, 2018 6:24 am

Jane Jacobs was one of the 20th century’s greatest urban planning gurus. In one of her books she called traffic engineers incompetent. I deeply regret having missed a chance to meet her before she died. I would have asked her about that for sure.

Reply to  commieBob
November 15, 2018 6:26 am

That was meant as a reply to: Joe Born November 15, 2018 at 6:13 am

Joe Born
Reply to  commieBob
November 15, 2018 7:17 am


I do scratch my head at a lot of highway designs (my pet peeve being the erstwhile through lane that becomes a right-turn-only lane when you least expect it), but I withhold judgment about the engineers themselves because I don’t know the big picture (and my brother-in-law’s a highway engineer). And, despite my personal preferences, I’m inclined to think we’re artificially suppressing out road building: I suspect we’d be more prosperous with more (user-funded) roads and street lanes. I’m not sure about that, though.

But it’s clear to me that urban planners’ artificial push for high building density is wrong-headed. Absent an unusually high concentration of high-value activity, density beyond a certain point is excessively expensive. Having lived most of my adult life in a high-rise, I know it makes all manner of activities more complicated and inconvenient than they are in the typical single-family home. Sure, I liked being able to walk to so many things, and I liked being able to drop down into a subway to get places. But most people could not have afforded living where I did and paying for all the food deliveries, high-altitude window washing, elevator maintenance, etc.

This density fetish has a cargo-cult quality. Sure, a high concentration of high-value activity does make high building density–and the accompanying expense–worthwhile. But causation doesn’t run the other way: making building density high doesn’t cause the activities that justify the added expense. You get the bad without the good.

Reply to  Joe Born
November 15, 2018 10:01 am

You are one of the few that sees it as it is.

A deeper look also shows that the high density concept is actually more expensive as well. Economy of scale only scales so far.

Where I live, the pet high density projects need to be directly (and indirectly) subsidized to make them work. (10-yr tax breaks, “system development charge” credits, building permit fee waivers, etc.)

November 15, 2018 6:25 am

‘Urban planning’ these days is all about creating congestion to force people out of their cars. And it clearly worked in this case, as it resulted in gridlock and people ran from the fire rather than driving their CO2-spewing death machines.

People who intentionally redesign roads to make life worse for the people who use them aren’t going to think for two seconds about the consequences if large numbers of people have to evacuate along those roads.

Reply to  MarkG
November 15, 2018 7:10 am

Mark/Commie – yes, Jane Jacobs “eyes on the street”, grandmother of the “New Urbanism” which romanticizes a return to pedestrian streets. I have her book. And Anthony … I KNEW I remembered you living in Paradise! Now I understand the story of your moving. I’ve been lurking here for quite a while. Again, please accept my prayers for you, your associates, and neighbors so horrifically affected by this fire (I already made the donation).

I am willing to bet that the Paradise downtown street improvement project was Federally-funded by Obama-bucks for shovel-ready Economic Recovery (stimulus) Jobs. I know that my upper-upper middle class community did! We got $ Millions for street improvements which included bulb-outs, paving stone sidewalks, new handicap ramps to upgrade the old handicapped ramps (side slopes changed from 15deg. to 5deg. … and … and … the pièce de résistance … traffic calming devices. Broad raised “speed bumps” in the roadway. Oh … and the darling of new urbanist planners … diagonal parking, wherein users back-into traffic lanes (sometimes two of em) to exit. We are just over the hills from the Oakland Hills Fire, but in similarly heavily-wooded hilly terrain. Thankfully we have more escape routes than a remote town like Paradise, but in the case of a wildfire, it would be chaos on the roads.

But, then again … we should all be … walking … or riding a bike. Because that was the key to receiving Obama-bucks. Propose a downtown beautification project with the accompanying claims of “greenness” and the Fed’s will send your high income community $millions! Thanks taxpayers! Add-in something about “the handicapped/handicapable” in your Grant request … and voila! $millions of taxpayers dollars are on their way to “stimulate” your local economy. Am I cynical about all the faux-greenness? Yep.

Reply to  Kenji
November 15, 2018 9:17 am

Diagonal parking was great in the 60’s when the majority of vehicles were sedans, coupes and an occasional pickup truck (open bed). Now the majority of vehicles are SUV’s with DARK tinted windows making it impossible to see the driverer in a parking lot and even worse to see traffic on the road.

Terry Jackson
Reply to  Usurbrain
November 15, 2018 9:29 pm

Yep, in 1968 Skyway was a 2 lane road with diagonal parking, sidewalks, and storefronts. The biggest traffic issue was watching for the folks who just put it in reverse and backed out. The only way to widen the road was to eliminate diagonal parking .

Reply to  MarkG
November 15, 2018 8:03 am

As a professional civil engineer who has done a lot of transportation work, I am quite familiar with what happens to a small downtown when a landscape architect manages to sell the movers and shakers on a downtown “rehab” plan. Given that more than few downtowns have experienced a slow mall death over the years and now an agonizing final brutal wipeout by Amazon, these plans are taken as a hail mary last pass effort. The absolute worst design is the curb bump out followed by angled parking. Backing out into oncoming traffic is the worst possible nightmare, but it is still a popular approach.
Paradise unfortunately paid the ultimate price for this folly, I really hope they and others have learned their lesson.

nw sage
Reply to  Yirgach
November 15, 2018 6:31 pm

You can bet your PE license that they have NOT learned a thing from this ‘incident’! [And for the victims of the Camp Fire and their relatives ‘incident’ is a preposterous understatement.

Reply to  nw sage
November 16, 2018 9:24 am

I can see the chain of rationalization now. They owned too many cars that made too much climate that made the fire worse so they brought it on themselves and its not our fault. 😐

Reply to  Yirgach
November 16, 2018 9:19 am

What does Amazon offer? Convenience. What’s a “rehab” plan like this do for a downtown? Makes it more inconvenient to travel through and shop there.

You don’t save a sinking ship by pouring in more water.

November 15, 2018 6:30 am

Over the years airline safety has improved one horrible accident at a time. Lessons learned from each incident was applied to the entire system so as never to occur as a cause again. Since it is a highly and tightly regulated industry applied changes had to be adopted, and today the odds of boarding an airliner and getting to your destination is almost 100%.

Unfortunately when you have politicians and ignorant (not necessarily stupid) citizens making decisions using feelings instead of facts, the right things to do isn’t so assured. And these decisions impact a lot of your lives. Some are nuisances and some can be potentially life threatening.

These fires are so sad for everyone involved. Decisions not to thin the trees and brush and what Anthony has pointed out in restricting egress are prime examples. The big question will be going forward will someone step up and require basic changes to be made, or will we go on like it is only to see another incident in the future with like results?

Randle Dewees
November 15, 2018 6:31 am

Perhaps more in-car and (if it survived) security video will come out that documents the progression of events. Aside from a built in disruption like this constriction it doesn’t take much to disrupt traffic flow and even one stalled car or truly confused and panicked driver crashing could have been a nucleus for the traffic freeze.

My immediate family converges for mini getaways by renting cabins on the Sierra Westside, the last time up in Arnold which is near Sonora. Look at a map, Arnold basically has ONE two lane road that could easily be cut off by a crash or fire. I’m always struck by the extreme fire danger presence in every Westside town. As nice as the places are I simply could not live in an environment where such wildfires can and do occur.

Alan the Brit
November 15, 2018 6:37 am

I don’t know if they did or not, but the next time the planners MUST consult Fire Officers who know ALL about “means of escape in the event of a fire!”

When I worked at the famous Rutherford Laboratory many moons ago in the Design Office, with three architects & technicians & two engineers, it was compulsory that once design drawings had been completed, they would be sent acorss the road to AERE Harwell’s fire department for consultation, the Chief or Deputy Chief Fire-Officer would give the architects a really hard time if they weren’t happy with the means of escape! In Paradise’s case they should be consulted prior to rebuild/design is undertaken!

Delighted to hear you & your people are safe, homes can be rebuilt, lives can’t be!!! Thoughts & prayers with you all! 😉

E J Zuiderwijk
November 15, 2018 7:04 am

I have a revolutionary suggestion: intelligence tests for councillors.

Reply to  E J Zuiderwijk
November 15, 2018 4:36 pm

The problem isn’t intelligence, it’s ideology.
More intelligent politicians will just end up doing stupid things with more style.

Farmer Ch E retired
November 15, 2018 7:15 am

Anthony – First of all, thank you for your service to your local community the community of WUWT followers. We hope you can get some well deserved rest at some point.

You and many of your readers may have viewed the blancolirio YouTube channel during the Oroville Dam overflow event and spillway repair. Juan is a volunteer reporter with no apparent ideological biases (he lives in the Oroville area and drives airplanes for a living). He’s been producing a daily video following the Camp Fire that add some perspective to the event. Here’s a video from day 3.


November 15, 2018 7:20 am

Circulation is still not good for northern California. Still the wind from the north.

Curious George
November 15, 2018 7:38 am

This is a precautionary principle problem. Should we plan roads for an unlikely event of a wildfire? Should we plan dams and levees for an unlikely event of an atmospheric river? Should we build bunkers for an unlikely event of a nuclear war?

Reply to  Curious George
November 15, 2018 8:04 am

“This is a precautionary principle problem.”
It most certainly is not!
“Should we plan roads for an unlikely event of a wildfire?”
Of course, if you are in a fire prone area. Wildfires are a natural, reoccurring event. Indeed, they happen every year. You can even assess your forests to ascertain the risks compared to other areas that have burned. Measuring undergrowth and fuel loads is rather Old School these days.

“Should we plan dams and levees for an unlikely event of an atmospheric river?”
Of course. Atmospheric rivers are natural and do occur from time to time. To get a better feel for your absolute risk, you can evaluate your local geography and hydrology. In addition, you have flooding and precipitation records going back over 100 years.

“Should we build bunkers for an unlikely event of a nuclear war?”
Probably not. There has never been an all-out Global Thermonuclear War. In a limited exchange, you probably do not have all that much to worry about.

Reply to  TonyL
November 15, 2018 8:25 am

You have to build for what has happened in the past. I live on the other coast, where hurricanes and flooding are more a problem than wildfires. I am so, so sorry for the people in the middle of this disaster. I’ve been looking at East Coast beach evacuation for years as we vacation there. The evacuation routes are well marked and all the streets turn one-way out. There’s not much that can fall in the roads, causeways are fairly high off the water – and I assume if there was a crash, people would shove the vehicles out of the way. But still, there are bottlenecks every time it happens. You leave at the first reports of hurricanes or it can be gridlock. We’ve lost lots of vacation days because we move out early, but so be it. I can’t imagine how it would be if that was our permanent home – we live inland – gotta pray for Californians.

Reply to  Curious George
November 15, 2018 10:07 am

What do you think the FEMA flood maps are based upon? And WHY did they get updated (read: expanded flood zones) recently? … if not for the rarest of potential flood events?

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Curious George
November 15, 2018 4:29 pm

There is nothing unlikely about them. In a fire prone area you get fires. In a flood prone area you get floods. On a coastline you get cyclones, on a prairie you get tornados. In the Australian desert you get flies.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
November 17, 2018 5:51 pm

How do you build a road to get away from the flies?

Reply to  secryn
November 19, 2018 8:07 pm

Build it wide, long, and impermeable. Huge Shoulders, xeriscape, or bare rock, concrete, sand, Scrape up and carry off the road kill every day. Stay in the middle.

November 15, 2018 7:41 am

It would be my observation that road alterations to stop speeding just don’t work. The proper answer is to deal with the crooks. We have a road near here that was filled with ‘tank traps’ to stop speeding, and the result is that no-one uses it, taking routes through residential streets instead. Thus, GREATER danger to the locals thanks to the ramps.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Ian Macdonald
November 15, 2018 9:30 am

A common inability to deal with multiple working hypotheses. They get an idea that they fixate on, and don’t consider the unintended consequences.

HD Hoese
November 15, 2018 7:51 am

Unfortunately, one of the problems with capitalism is the cozy relationship often developed with government. In Harvey struck Rockport, Texas, while there was a very exceptional, successful local government response, it was a bit of a surprise. The city had done the same thing to the downtown Heritage District to improve parking, then found out it interfered with the Heritage Parade. This had nothing to do with evacuation, or the wishes of interested parties.

After the storm a city permit was denied to an out of state church group who was going to build a structure, to be left with the local church, so they could stay here a year or so. Could not be metal, so as they planned to pack up, permit granted. No surprise, but especially church groups, and other private ones, often outperform government. FEMA should go, not politics, but complication of structure like other too large programs. Local Homeland Security did come help open up driveways.

These things are just small versions of what goes on with climate (among others) bureaucracy. They vary from stupidity, lack of homework, good-old-boy stuff to outright collusion.

Incidentally, sorry we can’t send you some, but you get more than we do. Hang in there. Fires are worse than hurricanes. https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/snow-vember-the-earliest-houston-snowfall-ever-just-happened/285-614153347

Reply to  HD Hoese
November 15, 2018 4:38 pm

That’s not a problem with capitalism, it’s a problem with government.
If you don’t think businesses have cozy relations with the government under socialism, you haven’t been paying attention to socialism.

The bigger government gets, the harder those who benefit from government will fight to be the ones in control.

David Borth
November 15, 2018 7:58 am

I have little information on the severity of the Camp Fire, but not the green branches on the trees in the photo along the Skyway, suggestion the fire was a long over due understory clean/burn and the questions regarding forest management are valid – and the need for firesmarting these communities very clear.

R Shearer
Reply to  David Borth
November 15, 2018 8:17 am

…and associated power line upgrading and maintenance.

Reply to  David Borth
November 15, 2018 8:54 am

“When I lived in Paradise between 1989 and 1994, I worried about the potential for a firestorm and evacuation disaster, and when the Oakland Hills Firestorm of 1991 happened, I remember being on my property off Nunneley Road, and hearing the dry north wind howling in the trees. I knew then that it would not take much to create a wildfire disaster there just like in the Oakland Hills. It was then that I decided to move back to Chico.”
Since these have happened before and will obviously happen again, where are the building codes to require necessary tree and brush clearing at distance and other like steel roofing. Very much head-in-sand approach. Also amazing that Cali’s don’t realize that Jerry’s 100 yr solution to global warming is no solution at all.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  BFL
November 15, 2018 12:23 pm

Building codes don’t address these issues. Once you step outside the building envelope you are now in zoning ordinance territory. Zoning ordinances will also regulate building heights, materials, setbacks, etc.

Neil Jordan
November 15, 2018 8:11 am

It’s called “traffic calming”. From omniscient Wiki: Traffic calming uses physical design and other measures to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. It aims to encourage safer, more responsible driving and potentially reduce traffic flow.

More at https://www.ca-ilg.org/srts-toolkit/traffic-calming

Reply to  Neil Jordan
November 15, 2018 11:43 am

I was wondering the other day why the traffic was so calm. No car at sight. It turned out the traffic lights were off due to a power outage. What a paradox.

The traffic planners are sitting in an ivory tower and trying to make the life as miserable as possible. Instead of hiring policemen, they just install cameras and turn your mistakes made in your owned car as income. Those who steal a car drive as fast as they want. The only way to get along is drive slower and slower, buy a property near your working place with a huge loan, trying to outcompete your workmates. Be sure to marry so your spouse works near you.

November 15, 2018 9:05 am

My whacky conspiracy theory of the day: Does politics play a role in the decision to commit firefighting resources to voting precincts in California?
California is effectively a one-Party state. All state-wide offices are held by Democrats. The Democrats have a 2/3 supermajority in the State legislature. The token Republicans in the legislature have no voice. Even Republicans lean left here. The last Republican in State office, Governor Schwarzenegger, advocated cap and trade. Public employees are heavily unionized by the SEIU. Democrats tend to lean far Left here, which means among other things that they view those with whom they disagree as not only having bad motive, but evil.
Something stands out about Paradise. It voted for Trump. Explore the map below:
The Fountaingrove neighborhood in Santa Rosa burned in the 2017 Tubbs Fire (in the same footprint as the Hanley Fire 50 years earlier). Its voting precincts went for Trump in 2016.
Coincidence or Republican voting district eradication program?

anna v
November 15, 2018 9:08 am

Anthony, keep strong.

We had two bad forest fires in populated areas in greece this summer, due to to a long dry season and strong winds. The same thing ,people trapped by bad roads and fleeing their cars on foot and burnt as a result. Others jumped into the sea and drowned because of bad rescue efforts, smoke and cinders falling into the sea. https://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2018/07/29/mati-athens-fires-people-sea/

About 100 people were burnt or drowned due to bad organization during and after the fire. 26 were found huddled together at a dead end over a precipice. We are still recovering from the shock as a society.

People will build in pine tree areas :(. My son lives in the south of France and is in a pine tree area. He said that he is allowed to cut all pine trees 50 meters from his house, even if it is in the plot of the neighbor. Sounds to me the only reasonable precaution for avoiding such disasters .

Thanks for informing us


John F. Hultquist
November 15, 2018 9:24 am

Thanks Anthony.
This makes a very sad story.

People want to blame someone. The Mayor, the roads designer, the electric utility, the last President, the current President, and so on.
You have written: “I’m sure the lawyers will sort it out.

This makes me think of Jimmy Buffett’s last line in Margaritaville: “And I know it’s my own damn fault.”

I only mean there are lots of people to lay the blame on, and there will be 10+ years of arguing about it.
It would be better to use the money and talent to make communities throughout the region safer. A few, perhaps, ought to be abandoned.
If I had more time, I might be able to write this more sympathetically. I don’t mean to offend.
Again, thanks for the report. Best to all.

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
November 15, 2018 10:17 am

I’ll thank you to NEVER quote Jimmy Buffett ever again …

Just another multi-millionaire “Socialist” who has been made fabulously wealthy via capitalism and traditional American values.

And BTW … his music has been mass market pap ever since “A1A”. Total crapola.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Kenji
November 15, 2018 12:58 pm

I wanted something by Shelby Lynne, but didn’t have the time to look it up.
[Okay. That’s not exactly true.]

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
November 17, 2018 5:57 pm

New Orleans is one that should have been abandoned after Katrina. Instead, it became a national point of pride to put it back like it was before–below sea level. Gosh, what could go wrong?

November 15, 2018 9:53 am

Our previous Urban Planner claimed in an interview that Vancouver’s Fire Department had frustrated his major objective to narrow our streets to create a “European ambience” with their silly time standards for accessing fires…. “I mean, what the hell difference can a few minutes make?”
The many traffic clotting (sorry, “calming”) measure already taken have “forced people out of their cars” have had the consequence of reducing fuel taxes which go to public transport. The plan to go all electric by 2030 will reduce the taxes to zero, so the bright sparks are now studying per/kilometre “road pricing” which should be easy with the brave new web connected vehicles.
Vancouver has a single 1938 bridge from the main area, exiting to the north, with a single lane either inbound or out. The main southward exit goes through a 1964 tunnel with two lanes each way.
Building more access would only have more people using it has been the argument against expansion.

Reply to  Betapug
November 15, 2018 10:15 am

It’s been about 20 years since the street standards changed where I live. Allowing (encouraging) 14 foot wide travel lanes (21′ curb to curb with parking on one side) was one of the changes.

Just before the major code changes, the fire chief was fired. I assumed that it was related.

It took about 15 years before the current crop of fire review lackeys (fire marshals office) began to make noise about the problems. No deaths or property loss yet because of restricted access, but it will inevitably happen. (when it does, the blame will automatically go to toward the greedy developers).

November 15, 2018 10:16 am

A map of fire stations, fire history, and County supervisor Districts is here:
The first thing this reveals is that fires swept through the same area prior to 2009. They are outlined and named on the map. History repeats itself again. Although the fires were always stopped short of Paradise. It also reveals that the Sawmill Peak Lookout station should have provided plenty of warning.
Interestingly, it appears to show plenty of firefighting resources in the area, but most of them are volunteer fire stations. They might require time to mobilize depending on whether they are staffed 24/7. It would be interesting to do a GIS study of the density of fire station assets by state political districts and fire frequency. It appears from the map that Paradise relied on two City fire stations while the larger (and Blue) City of Chico relies on County fire stations. CalFire has some major resources in the immediate area, the Chico Air Attack Base and the Butte Fire Center.https://ccc.ca.gov/locations/butte-fire-center/.
Why weren’t more resources committed to defending Paradise this time?

Steven Franchuk
Reply to  Jim
November 15, 2018 12:47 pm

Resources were committed but the fire was moving way to fast. PGE reported a line problem at 6:15. 6:30. shortly after that fire crews arrived and reported the fire could not be controlled. The small city fire departments are not equipped for a fire this big and this fast. Cal fire did have aircraft and crews near Oroville . Under ideal conditions it would take an hour to get crews there. But all lanes of all roads leading out of paradise were full of cars leaving the town. Making access to the town impossible. The high wind and poor visibility due to the smoke made aircraft ineffective. By 8AM the town was on fire.

In most fires residence typically have several hours of warning before the fire reaches them. That wasn’t the case in this fire. Not everyone in town was awake by 8PM. Some people got up only to find there home was already on fire. This fire simply moved faster than anyone expected.

Janelle Allemandi
Reply to  Steven Franchuk
November 15, 2018 8:06 pm

Yes— there was no warning. It all happened so fast! My daughter, who was already at work, only knew because her cousin from Colorado texted about it! She called my son to evacuate. It was a fire storm. No time for anything but running or driving away.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Jim
November 15, 2018 1:09 pm

Use Google Earth – Street View.
Do 360° views from a dozen spots around Paradise.
Once this fire got going the only thing to do is to get out of the way.
Here is a link to a fire in Washington State (fewer people in the way):

November 15, 2018 10:41 am

Is this a climate site or not?
What about CO2?
Can anyone calculate how much CO2 was generated by California wildfires last year?
How about the existing Camp fire each day?
Do these fire make more CO2 than …. all the traffic in California in a year? Or something.

Not Chicken Little
Reply to  Ronald Cooke
November 15, 2018 11:15 am

CO2 from Nature: good, and harmless. 3.2 trillion tons in the atmosphere according to one source.
CO2 from Man: bad, must have global government control. 6 billion tons to 32 billion tons, depending on source – less than 1% of the total.

As far as forest fires, from:

“Large wildfires in the western United States can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in just a few weeks as cars do in those areas in an entire year, a new study suggests.”

Allan MacRae
November 15, 2018 10:53 am

“I felt I had to tell this story, because I had remarked to the general manager of KPAY radio (where I do weather reports) on the morning of November 8th, that “if they don’t get the Skyway opened up to 4 lanes, people are going to be burned alive in their cars”. This issue was firmly on my mind then. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. – Anthony”

Hi Anthony,

It is truly upsetting when you make a valid warning and that warning is not acted upon in time and a disaster results. Unfortunately, that’s situation is all too common when when deals with a bureaucracy.

In the absence of strong and intelligent leadership, bureaucracies are slow and often truly stupid.

In Canada, the anti-pipeline debate has festered on for a decade or more, when the merits of pipelines versus the alternatives or so obvious that the entire argument could be will summarized on a Post-it note.

In the interim, the derailment of an oil train in the town of Lac Megantic Quebec caused 47 people to be incinerated – burned alive in a light oil conflagration.

For a decade or more, we have been saying the pipelines are cheaper and safer for humanity and the environment than alternatives such as rail – it IS that simple.

We have a problem in Canada with bigger and bigger governments. Delegating responsibilities to larger groups of stupid people does not create a better result.

Best personal regards, Anthony, to you and yours.

Allan MacRae
Reply to  Allan MacRae
November 15, 2018 10:56 am

Again, apologies for typos in the above post. I am dictating with my phone since I am overseas.

November 15, 2018 11:19 am

Having lived in SoCal with a National Forest bordering the property my house was on I know of the anxiety during Santa Ana winds. You take chances and accept the consequences. Tree thinning and brush removal are necessary but everyone rarely participates despite the known danger. Planning an adequate evacuation route is the last step in fire safety. Planning the community is the first.

November 15, 2018 11:51 am

It should be obvious to anyone, especially a city planner, that a 4 lane egress road is at least inversely proportional to a 2 lane road in capacity if not more. And if anything at all, such as an accident or blockage of one lane or both, then it is immediately apparent that there is no movement going to happen. At least with 4 lanes of traffic, there will hopefully be at least one lane open either direction, if not both, travelling at a higher speed, so a 4 lane road is going to get at least 4 times the cars moved as compared to a 2 lane road, all things being equal. If things move along smoothly then the 4 lane is probably able to sustain 8 times the traffic flow as a 2 lane. It is simple mathematics after all, similar to water volume through a pipe twice the diameter. Maybe a poor analogy but it is similar.

Carl R Carlson
November 15, 2018 12:01 pm

Breass’s Paradox folks.


When the economy grows, the road slows.

When the roads slow, the fires grow.

Debunk all you want, you still know its true.

John in Oz
November 15, 2018 12:28 pm

“There were flames to the left of me and flames to the right,” said Wendell Whitmore, a 62-year-old resident who tried to drive out of Paradise on Bille Road at around 9 a.m. “The flames were up in the trees, all the houses were on fire. The fire was three feet from my car. The rubber around the windows was melting. That’s when I decided to get out.”

In Australia, no stranger to bush fires, there is a concerted effort to prepare for these events by encouraging those in fire-prone areas to have a fire plan. Possibly the most important and life-saving element to this is to know to leave early rather than waiting until “the rubber around the windows was melting”.

Condolences to all who are suffering through this catastrophe.

November 15, 2018 1:05 pm

In my travels, I have noticed that the power utility poles in other countries are made of steel reinforced concrete. Concrete poles do not burn and fall across roads.

November 15, 2018 1:05 pm

It resembles the Highway of Death in Kuwait circa 1991. I’m not that familiar with the area but Neal Road and route 191 should have been available as evacuation routes at least early on. As I recall they closed HWY 99 where these roads intersect so perhaps they were closed and not available for evacuation? But then if they just defended along the West Branch of the Feather River rather than HWY 99 they would have saved the town and a lot of lives.

Greg Cavanagh
November 15, 2018 1:08 pm

I never hear of fire proof shelters being built in fire zones. Come on guys, bomb shelters were all the rage at one point, but nobody builds fire shelters in a fire zone?

I looked at buying a block on the side of a hill covered with trees. My very first concern was fires sweeping up the hill. I know they move fast, and knowing my family has a safe place to go was my first consideration.

A block building with no windows, a concrete roof and a 4 hour fireproof door, is all you need to know the family will be safe. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to keep your family safe for 4 hours.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
November 15, 2018 1:25 pm

Carbon monoxide is a problem. Unless a filtering system to remove carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide is installed, and oxygen tanks are installed, it could become a mausoleum.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  otsar
November 15, 2018 4:17 pm

I can’t do the calcs, but I would say that a 4m x 4m fire shelter would have enough air in it for a family of 4 for 4 or more hours. Might get a bit stuffy by the end, but you simply close the door as late as possible and open it periodically to feel the heat outside. I’ve no idea how they deal with the heat at the door handle. But it seems feasible, and it would only be $10 to $15 thousand for the foundation, blockwork and concrete roof. I know if I was in a fire prone area, I would build one. In an act of desperation, it gives you a fighting chance. The real challenge is not to use the space as a storage room.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
November 16, 2018 1:18 pm

Remember that convection is a thing, and can cause what firefighters call backdraft. Opening a door standing between a fire and you can cause any nearby flames to wash in as the sudden heat differential in the air equalizes. Being in a relatively sealed space like a windowless shelter would likely magnify the effect. So I wouldn’t re-open the shelter door once closed, until reasonably certain that the area around you has burned out. Keep O2 tanks inside to refresh the air as needed. Debris may also fall in front of the door, blocking you in until rescue services arrive, so I’d prepare for having to wait inside significantly longer than 4 hours, at least 2-4 hours more.

Reply to  Greg Cavanagh
November 15, 2018 3:21 pm

A shelter can work for a fast moving fire, there are even fire tents that can be used by firefighters that get trapped, but in a slow fire as otsar indicated you would need some sort of fresh air system. You can certainly build more fire resistant homes, just like you can build more wind and water resistant homes in coastal areas, but the extra cost is weighed against the risks.

As far as slowing traffic in downtown areas, it can help foot traffic and safety from accidents, but it needs to be offset by building high traffic load bypasses. Not always possible but very desirable.

Gunga Din
November 15, 2018 3:22 pm

I grew up across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio.
The 1937 flood was devastating.
In response Covington, Kentucky built a flood wall to handle a flood (I think) 3 ft higher than the crest.
But they didn’t surrender the land on the other side to the river. There are gates in the flood wall to allow traffic and commerce to continue on the river side. They tested the gates to make sure they still closed about 5 or 6 years ago. I don’t think they’ve ever been used for another flood.
Learn from the past. Prepare for the future.
When Paradise is rebuilt, as someone said above, put in easily removable bollards if they want to make one of the evacuation lanes a parking lane. Test the ease of removal periodically.
For other cities in CA (or along hurricane prone evacuation routes in the East), rip out the “bulb outs” and replace them with bollards.
They may never need to pulled for a real emergency till after you die, but that is a real and sensible “Precautionary Principle” in action. Based on lessons learned from history rather than a computer generated DeLorean.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Anthony Watts
November 15, 2018 3:57 pm

Ft. Mitchell. 4 miles south of downtown Cincy.
Skyline is still around. (Not sure about Gold Star or Dixie or the others.) It’s even in Central Ohio where I live now. And you can get frozen Skyline and frozen White Castles. (Not sure what that compo would produce!8-)

For those scratching their heads right now, Skyline is a brand of “Cincinnati Style” chili. Very unique, very memorable. White Castles is also very unique but it is a hamburger chain that predates McDonald’s by about 40 years.
Depending on you personal taste, both are very good. They are both also memorable because once you’ve had either, they’ll remind you later that you did. 😎

Gunga Din
Reply to  Gunga Din
November 15, 2018 4:06 pm

I’m not sure if it’s still true but a one time there were more chili parlors in the Cincy area than McDonald and Burger Kings and Wendy’s combined.
Good stuff if you forget what you think “chili” should be.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Anthony Watts
November 15, 2018 4:41 pm

Cinci chili aside, I’m praying for you.
You are providing a needed service for those in real need now.
I hope my “chili” comments provided you a momentary respite from your present pressure.
No need to reply as along as you smiled.

November 15, 2018 5:15 pm

Thanks Antony, we do have the same problem in Australia, what used to be a nice plesant small town becomes just a through road. But cars are a fact of life in today’s world , so despite the traders cry for passing trade, a ring road is the only real option.

True that might involve cutting down a few trees, but thats the way it has to be. It is impossible to please 100 % of the people, but many of todays politicians desperate for every vote try too. The result of course is chaose. .


November 15, 2018 11:18 pm

During solar minimum California can not rely on rainfall associated with El Niño.

November 16, 2018 8:40 am

Anthony, your article was discussed by John & Ken on KFI radio in LA yesterday afternoon just before 5:00pm, they mentioned the term road diets and decried the practice of forcing congestion on roads.

November 16, 2018 10:44 am



Us of the “street view” and satelite map in Google Maps and Earth are big players for insurance claims. So your post of the congestion reminded me how valuable they can be.

1) I used the street view last year for an insurnce claim that showed the undamaged property compared with after the damage. Two insurance companies liked that and I had satisfactin very quickly. Of course, one should take hotos once a year or after major additions, etc. But if you haven’t, well….. Google did it for you.

2) An agency our tax money goes to takes good pictures of post-storm and post-flood and so forth just for this purpose and also for city use re-establishing property lines, roadways and so forth


So one can use number “1” and the current aerial photos for claims and later re-building purposes.
Your county or city may have to request the aerial survey, but it was done here within a week and a half or so of H-hour. I live close to Michael’s impact but came theu fine. I also had relatives use the photos after Katrina back in 2005.

PLZ spread the word and maybe inquire if the state or county has requested the service.

Gums sends…

Reply to  Gums
November 16, 2018 12:55 pm

Gums, it’s an honor to see your participation here knowing your experience in living, understanding, and managing life and death risks on an acute basis!

Taking your suggestion and Anthony’s article one step further: Is it possible to get historical traffic data which had been measured in real-time from Google or Waze?

We all have these apps and maps which show real-time congestion and speeds for route planning and show as green, yellow, and red coloring of the road or street. This congestion is monitored by, depending on the source, installed radar devices, in-road sensors, or the movement of actual phones and cars within the traffic (Waze).

I am wondering if the actual recorded traffic flow is available for the peak of the Camp Fire during evacuation which would show the impact of curb-outs and other factors described above. Seems that it should be possible to re-create the evacuation and show precisely where traffic was impeded or bottlenecked.

November 16, 2018 12:41 pm

Maybe the concept of defensible space should be applied to roads that would be used as evacuation routes.

November 16, 2018 2:57 pm


@ Late Who must know me from another aspect of my life, and
@ Bill

Some cities have traffic pattern systems that the local TV station will use to show the traffic levels and routes. But the records and data capture is up to the local government and then the civil service “engineers” will set the light sequences and times, and approve all the new street changes when WalMart moves in, and so forth. So “it depends”.

My old hometown got a lot of flak during the Katrina evacuation because everyone focused on pictures of a few hundred school buses that might have driven a few thousand folks that could find the buses. And the drivers had not signed on to haul basic civilians outta danger and leave their own family behind!! Besides, the government had already ordered “mandatory” evacuation. So Catch 22. Meanwhile, after “practicing” with a real storm or two, the “contraflow” concept for all the big highways and interstates resulted in a half million people getting out in a very short time. South Florida is a mess, with only two main roads heading north that 95% of folks think of. But my son escaped and evaded for the storms in 2017 using the older U.S. and state highways. Took him a lot longer to reach the Panhandle, but was able to keep working here usingour confusers and ‘net. So preparation is key, and you don’t have to be a “prepper”

So city and county governments should look at evacuation routes considering their likely hazards, be they nature or an industrial chemical spill or whatever. Looks to me that Paradise decided to provide more parking for the local businesses on a thoroughfare at the expense of more lanes of traffic. Guess they could pay for parking behind all those stores. Go see what “old” Colorado City and Manitou Springs did during the early 2000’s with off-street parking.

Defensible space is a great idea. Having gone thru more storms than most up here in the Panhandle, out electric and utility companies do great things, and all winter you will see tree trimming and repairing the phone pedastals, cable TV posts and so forth. At my cabin in Colorado’s mountains, the IREA came thru this summer and trimmed trees and thinned. a few big fires provide the incentive.

One thing that bugs me about Paradise is some folks claimed no warning. Our poor county in Colorado has had the previous largest fire-Hayman. So a few years ago we got the “reverse 911” system for the county, and have had several calls about a nearby fire or an “all clear”. And I must remaind all that it doesn’t work on cell phones, only landlines or maybe a cable/phone/net package. Besides, we don’t have cell phone coverage at our cabin, heh heh. So pay the $$$ and have a real landline with minimal features, but will work when all the other stuff doesn’t. And at least one old phone versus the walk-around ones that need electric power to your home and the base station.

Gotta go.

Gums sends…

Donald Whiteley
November 16, 2018 4:23 pm

It looks like many California cities may have to take a much more serious stance on protecting people and property from wildfires. This may necessitate concentric, vegetation free zones and clearing trees and brush within 150 ft of the evacuation highways. Deeply forested areas may have to be isolated from the built up housing and business areas. On a personal note, our thoughts go out to the people of Paradise and the surrounding area. We used to play sports against their teams in the 1960s and have fond memories of driving up the hill, only to get creamed by their very good basketball teams! I also was a member of the Butte County survey crew that staked the Skyway upgrades in 1981. Man, we all got a terrible case of poison oak going out into the brush to put in our survey markers! Best of luck to you as you rebuild your beautiful town.

November 17, 2018 8:35 am

Salute Donald!

An extremely good point about mitigation for fires, and for that matter wind and water. In fact, an outstanding point.

Because we choose to live in two areas each year, we are “sensitive” to fire hazards and then we have the hurricane threat here on the Gulf coast. See Michael from a month ago. I-10 about 25 miles of ground zero is still clearing trees that were too close to one side and this primary east-west thoroughfare was down to one lane in spots as late as yesterday. When I evacuated my parents after Katrina ( no possible power for about 5 weeks and their insulin was getting hot) , I had to drive over powerlines and downed trees for about 7 or 8 miles on I-59. Both southbound and northbound lanes had trees on them, and we all used the shoulder and pressed on to our homes or rescue meeting locations. And BTW, no cell phone coverage and I drove right past many towersofr about 100 miles but nada, nyet, noway dot com When I reached them, their old landline phone still worked, so I could call home to say I made it. Heh heh.

Some places have codes and such, and others use a combination of codes and the utilitycompany policy to clear underbrush, thin the trees and so forth. For example, in Colorado, the IREA will cut down a “beetle kill” tree on your property if it is close to a powerline. Saves you big bucks and they have the good equipment to do the job. Ditto for your community services to clear drainage ditches, re-work sewer lines and so forth.

My cousin at ground zero for Katrina built a few feet higher than the surge, but was far enuf from the beach that he didn’t have big waves. He had cut down all the 70-foot pine trees within 80 feet of the house, and guess what? Duhhhh. Just a block away were trees in or on roofs and minor flooding.

Lastly, we live adjacent to the Eglin AFB bombing range. It has the largest stand of longleaf pines in the U.S. The base does controlled burns on a weekly basis because they test bombs and missiles here. So we have had only one or two small, but uncontrolled fires the 33 years we have lived here. AND WE LOVE OUR OLD LONGLEAF PINE TREES! They do not blow down in hurricanes or they would not live to be 300 years old. They also require brush fires to reproduce. So our controlled burns are win-win.

‘nuf philosophy, but you can demand mitigation from the government and to some extent from your utility companies. And don’t forget the reverse 911.

Gums opines/ suggests…

November 26, 2018 7:47 pm

a similar narrowing from two lane each way to one lane each way bottle neck also was done on Pearson Road at Clark which leads directly to Skyway

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