By now, most San Diegans are used to social distancing. Most San Diegans are used to the threat of wildfires, too.
However, no one has ever evacuated from a wildfire while also staying six feet apart from their neighbor.
“Disasters don’t stop because of COVID-19,” said Sean Mahoney. “Wildfire season is coming and it’s important for every family to be prepared.”
Mahoney is the Chief Executive Officer for the Southern California American Red Cross. He admits the thought of a wildfire during a global pandemic creates a bit of anxiety.
“When I see the heat warnings coming that we’ve had just in the last week,” he said. “And I see the amount of growth that we’ve had, it does make me concerned about wildfire.”
“If you get that evacuation order, you need to leave,” warned North County Fire Captain John Choi.
Captain Choi said any evacuation order will overrule the State of California’s stay-at-home order.
“Make a plan right now,” he said. “You need to be contacting your relatives and your friends and having plans in place for where you’re going to evacuate when we ask you to evacuate.”
“Sit with their family and talk about if there were a wildfire,” added Mahoney. “How would you respond? Where would you go? Where would you meet?”
The Red Cross will still have evacuation shelters, but Mahoney said they are looking at options that will allow evacuees to maintain social distancing standards.
“We’re going to need to separate people much more, obviously, to make sure that they’re safe; to make sure that our volunteers and staff are safe.”
Choi said a temporary shelter that usually holds 200 people can now only hold 50, which means the Red Cross would need four times as many temporary shelters.
Mahoney said they currently have identified 250 evacuation shelters in San Diego and Imperial Counties. He said they’re looking at using hotels, campgrounds, and adding more temporary shelters in order to handle evacuees in the event of a wildfire. He warned additional shelters means more Red Cross volunteers and donations are needed.
In the meantime, firefighters and the Red Cross are begging people to prepare by clearing brush and trees from around your property and by creating a disaster preparedness kit.
“The other thing is: You’re home right now,” said Captain Choi.
“What better time to find a big box, a big plastic box container, and get a list of what you need in a disaster kit,” added Mahoney, who said you can find that list on the PrepareSanDiego.org.