Town Of Moraga

Preparations Avert Disaster – October 2019

Last year’s Camp Fire in Paradise was a wake-up call that provided many lessons. Fortunately for the residents of Moraga, the Moraga Police Department (MPD), Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD), residents and the Sanders Ranch Homeowners’ Association have taken numerous emergency preparedness actions which helped prevent the Merrill Fire in the Sanders Ranch area from becoming a firestorm.

  • MOFD prioritized fire prevention and has been active in the community, providing information about proper vegetation management, implementing hazardous fuels reduction programs (controlled burns), operating a brush chipper program, red tagging properties that don’t comply with vegetation and weed abatement requirements and abating properties as necessary.
  • MPD updated the Town’s Emergency Operations Plan and created 23 separate Evacuation Zones with preplanned routes, collection areas and special concerns to facilitate evacuation, and encouraged residents to sign up for the Contra Costa County Community Warning System (CWS).
  • The Lamorinda Cities and Fire Districts, in collaboration with Lamorinda Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), prepared and distributed the Lamorinda Residents Guide to Wildfire Preparedness and Evacuation and participated in emergency preparedness meetings and evacuation drills.
  • Residents and the Sanders Ranch HOA performed necessary vegetation management which dramatically slowed the spread of the fire. Residents also worked together to inform each other of the evacuation by calling neighbors, knocking on doors and honking their horn as they evacuated to wake others up.
With an understanding of how quickly a small fire can spread, emergency responders throughout Alameda and Contra Costa County’s arrival on the scene within the first hour was instrumental in managing the blaze. We send our appreciation to the hundreds of first responders who helped saved the day, specifically:
  • Orinda, Lafayette and Danville Police and Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department who assisted with evacuation efforts.
  • Contra Costa Fire, Cal Fire, Livermore-Pleasanton Fire, Rodeo-Hercules Fire District, San Ramon Valley Fire District, Alameda County Fire, Berkeley Fire, Oakland Fire, Hayward Fire and other departments who successfully defended homes and contained the fire.
  • The Red Cross personnel who staffed the evacuation center at St. Monica’s Church and provided comfort and support to those in crisis.
  • St Monica’s church for allowing us to use the parish hall as an evacuation center.
  • All Moraga residents who cooperated in the evacuation, helped their neighbors and remained calm and respectful throughout the event.
While disaster was averted, as with all critical incidents, there are additional lessons to be learned from the Merrill Fire. Poor cell phone reception in Sanders Ranch was a challenge (exacerbated by the PG&E Power Shutoff) resulting in the CWS evacuation message not reaching individuals who were signed up. Additionally, the CWS alert message appeared as spam to some. We’re interested to hear about your experience as part of our review of the incident as we work to improve our response and learn what we can all do better. Please feel free to email Police Chief King or attend the Moraga Police Department Town Hall meeting scheduled for next Thursday, October 17 at 7:00 pm at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School.

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