Wildfire prevention adds new twist on National Night Out

National Night Out was held across the Bay Area and the nation, an opportunity for law enforcement to connect with the communities they serve. 

The event is always the first Tuesday in August and is bigger than ever after almost four decades.
In neighborhoods large and small, block parties were held, with police providing games, food, and conversation. 

For some fire-sensitive communities, disaster preparation was part of the evening, too. 
"You might be in a panic with 30 minutes to evacuate," Michelle Terrell explained, as she gave an attendee two knapsacks to use as emergency go bags. "This will help guide you with what you need," she added, giving the woman a checklist. 

Terrell is the vice-chair of Mill Valley's Emergency Preparation Commission, which formed after the 1991 firestorm in the Oakland hills. 

She was helping staff an information table in downtown Mill Valley for National Night Out. 

"People feel like they don't know where to start, they know they need water, food, and a plan to reunite with family," Terrell told KTVU, "but it's overwhelming and hard to get started so we give out these bags to get people thinking."  
National Night Out grew from the idea that when people know their neighbors, surroundings, and law enforcement, they are safer from crime. 

The same can be said of earthquake or wildfire, and since first responders rush into crisis together, sharing the stage seems natural. 
"We'll be taking the lead on notifications and evacuations while they're fighting the fire, so it's definitely an important partnership," Mill Valley Police Chief Alan Piombo told KTVU. 

Police agencies readily admit, the best part of NNO is the relaxed interaction, no arrests, no negativity. 
"We invite our community in to have a conversation with us, under circumstances that are much more normal than our usual calls for service," said Chief Piombo. 

In San Rafael's Bret Harte neighborhood- up on a ridge- a few dozen residents gathered for a potluck and music. 

They were joined by fire personnel who admit concern is high heading into the riskiest months.

"There's no question there's similarities between this area and Fountain Grove or Paradise, " said San Rafael Fire Battalion Chief Matt Windrem.

"It's real and we can share first-hand experiences of what happened at those fires."

Borrowing from the "neighborhood watch" concept, many communities are organizing "neighborhood response" groups. 

"The neighbors know each other and they know who needs help in an evacuation," said Mill Valley Vice-Mayor Sashi McEntee. "It may be someone who is disabled and needs extra time, or a kid who is home alone, but a neighborhood response group creates a connected and therefore resilient neighborhood."

At Loch Lomond Marina, one of San Rafael's largest events, new resident Sarah Buehler had many questions for both police and fire. 

"My escape plan is a different plan than what I had before," said Buehler, as her daughter climbed into a fire engine. 

The family moved from San Francisco this summer, and is figuring out their new neighborhood.   

"In the city, I had several escapes, now I have one, so we have to be quick," said Buehler.
"But this is great, a great way to get out and meet everybody, and learn more about how to prevent risk."