Novato holds emergency wildfire drill, several hundred residents participate

It was a rainy Saturday when Novato fire fighters and law enforcement drove through the Western Oaks neighborhood for an emergency wildfire evacuation. It was not a real fire threat, but residents played along. 

The emergency drill was designed to aid first responders and citizens prepare and familiarize themselves with the new county procedure in the case of another fast moving wildfire similar to the one that destroyed large portions of the North Bay in 2017. 

"We were a little concerned that we may lose some folks due to inclement weather but we've found we've had a really good response,” said Novato Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Whittet. 

During three separate drills, a push alert text or call went out to every phone number that enrolled in the program. Roughly 2,100 phones received the mock emergency alert in both English and Spanish. Next, first responders, specifically law enforcement, drove through neighborhoods on intercom systems announcing evacuations. 

"[Law enforcement] is probably the most important part, because they can get out in many different areas, where as the fire service may be focusing on one area where fire is impacting homes immediately,” said Whittet.

“We want to get out in front of that and have our law enforcement teams knocking on doors in advance of a fire."

During the drills, Novato residents drove to the Hill Gym where they were met by county services and the Red Cross. 

"It was very simple. We jumped in the car,” said Novato evacuee participant Mike S. 

“It made us aware that now what we need now is a go-bag. This was pleasant, but what if there are valuables left in the house that we want to have with us."

"If you're not prepared, it's more likely that you'll make mistakes, very costly mistakes,” said father Juan Padias on wanting his family to participate in the mock evacuation. 

"We got this notice last week, so we've been talking to him [young son] about it, saying 'This is what's going to happen. We're going to see the firefighters, highway patrol. Everyone is going to come. Don't worry, don't panic.'

Despite the rain, Novato Fire estimates several hundred people participated in the emergency drill.