ENCINITAS — Residents of the Olivenhain community in Encinitas believe the latest fire evacuation plan is a step in the right direction after years of unsatisfactory reports.
“I think you’ve taken a fresh approach very different than your previous administration,” said Councilmember Bruce Ehlers, who represents Olivenhain and has lived there for decades. “I see huge improvements in this report.
Olivenhain covers five square miles, with roughly 6,200 residents and 380 horses in 2,300 housing units, according to Encintias Fire Capt. Josh Gordon, who presented the new plan.
CalFire deems the area a very high fire hazard severity zone, and residents take fire preparedness seriously. Some longtime residents remember feeling ill-prepared for the Harmony Fire in 1996, which was headed toward Olivenhain before the wind changed its course.
Olivenhain resident Camille Perkins held up melted relics from the Harmony Fire: a piece of aluminum that melts at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and a piece of glass that melts between 2,600 and 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Everything burns when it’s hot enough,” Perkins said.
Encinitas Boulevard Apartments, nicknamed the Goodson Project, will replace two single-family homes and a residential care facility with 250 apartments, adding to the population in the area. This large apartment project, coupled with past fires, such as the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, Cocos Fire in 2014, Poinsettia Fire in 2014, and Bernardo Fire in 2014, made an effective evacuation plan all the more important.
The new plan splits the Olivenhain area into five zones.
The fire department collaborated with the county to use a software called Zone Haven to help residents identify which zone they are in and allow staff to run drills to see how a potential fire might behave.
As for the routes themselves, former plans did not use Encinitas Boulevard to evacuate, which residents said was a missed opportunity. Gordon agreed, and the new plan includes Encinitas Boulevard and will work with the sheriff’s department to direct traffic in the direction of greatest need.
Additional alternative routes like Avenida La Posta are also included in the new plan.
Taking the area’s narrow roads and high concentration of livestock into account, the department can add an additional two hours to the estimated evacuation clearance time, currently set at five to six hours, if the time is available.
The evacuation clearance time is an estimate of how long it would take for every resident to get to safety in case of an emergency. The greater evacuation clearance time can help with early communication to the community.
“When I can activate or declare an emergency and have evacuation warnings and orders early, that opens up the San Juan County Fairgrounds, which now is a destination that we can take horses to immediately,” Gordon said.
While residents were pleased with the updates, some still called for a fully stocked firehouse in Olivenhain. Fire Station 6 on Rancho Santa Fe Road is the closest to Olivenhain, and it is the only one in Encinitas without a large fire engine or truck.
“We needed increased improvements before the Goodson project, but now it’s even more critical,” said resident Susanne Klausenstock.