Sonoma Valley residents prepare for evacuation drill

Fire preparation will become more urgent this weekend for a few hundred Sonoma Valley residents.

Their neighborhood will be the first in the county to take part in a full evacuation drill.

Saturday morning, people living along Cavedale Road and Trinity Road will hear sheriff's sirens beginning at 8 a.m.

"I have water, clothing, snack bars, a flashlight, " said Monna Throop, showing KTVU the "go bag" she keeps ready, and will grab in the drill.

The mock emergency will come as a relief compared to her last evacuation, during the terrifying firestorm of October 2017.

"We were out for two weeks, and a third of the homes up here burned, including my neighbor," recalled Throop.

She is enthusiastically taking part in the evacuation drill.

"It's important to be able to just do it, get past the initial panic and say I know what I have to do."

The Nunns Fire was one of many raging that hot, windy October night, leveling homes across Sonoma Valley.

The Cavedale neighborhood sits between the town of Glen Ellen and the city of Sonoma.

What makes it ideal for a drill: 300 homes tucked into the hills, steep ravines and dry brush, and narrow, twisting Cavedale Road the primary way in and out.

At the top of the climb, Cavedale Road meets Trinity Road.

But for most residents on Cavedale, the best exit is a tricky 7 mile trek down to Highway 12.

"It's almost a spiderweb of roads and some are one lane," said Chris Godley, Director of Sonoma County Emergency Management.

"That's why we want everyone to practice this, since everyone is going to be doing the same thing at the same time."

It's the first county-run evacuation drill, but Godley expects more to follow, especially in locations with fire history and high risk.

"We're hoping that this example will pave the way for other communities in Sonoma County to also get prepared."

A cyclist who rides the ridge frequently said he had heard about the drill, and expects many people are fire-conscious.

"You have to be rehearsed for those conditions," said Graham Reid of Sonoma, "and when the wind comes up, they're going to remember what happened."

But some longtime residents admit they've been lax about planning.

"No, I'm not ready to evacuate, no more than last time," said Laura Connors, who lives along Cavedale.

"I'm glad I live closer to the highway, because I used to want to live at the top of the hill, but I like being a little closer."

Monna Throop recalls collecting and loading her five cats was especially difficult last time.

"It's 2 in the morning and I'm digging their carriers out of the storage shed in the dark," she said ruefully.

Now the carriers are stacked in a closet, ready to go at a moment's notice.

Throop wants to feel confident- not fearful- about facing an emergency, and she expects the drill to provide some lessons.

"One big question will be, did everyone get the alert?" she noted.

Official notifications during the 2017 firestorm were fraught with problems.

"With this drill, we want to know did we get an alert, a text, an e-mail, or hear sirens, let's find out what worked."

Everyone who evacuates will head to the Hanna Boys Center on Arnold Drive, to meet-up with the Red Cross, ask questions and gather resources.

The drill is expected to conclude by 10 am.