Surviving the 2015 Fire of Lake County California- Part 2, by B.G.

Looters- Lessons Learned

  1. You don’t need to be an expert killer to deter an attacker. The people who loot an evacuated area are generally cowardly. You need only appear more of a threat than the average person.
  2. Buy a gun, learn to use it, but don’t obsess. The survivalist fantasy of defending your home against squads of organized killers is just that– fantasy. What is more realistic is that you will stumble into the opportunist that thinks “mandatory evacuation” means “no one is at home”.
  3. Encounters can happen any time. If you are staying, start carrying a gun shortly after mandatory evacuations are called. Stay out of sight and in an area were it is unlikely for anyone to sneak up on you. Getting the drop on an intruder is 99% of the game.
  4. Dogs or geese are very useful. The food and water you need to keep them alive is worth it. You won’t sleep well with looters around, but you’ll sleep better with a furred or feathered intruder alarm.
  5. A sign warning that looters will be shot is worth the effort. Which house would you choose: the one with a warning sign or the one without?

Dealing With Martial Law (or Something Close To It)

Four days after the fire, my wife and I decided it was best for me to try and go back to work. What I saw in the pre-dawn as I drove to work was surreal and another story all together. Ultimately I had no trouble getting past the roadblocks and out of the evacuation zone. Getting in back in five five days after the fire was a lot tougher. The county, sick of the looting, felt .50 cal machine guns and National Guard MPs should do the trick. As far as I could tell, it seemed to work in that the looting stopped. On Friday, I headed home with a truck full of goodies for the family. My wife, who is on friendly terms with most of our neighbors, had learned from them where all the road blocks were. She was also rightfully paranoid that I would get mistaken as a looter and shot if I tried to run along the back roads. I decided to try and talk my way in. I showed my ID with a local address on it at the first roadblock and they let me through without too much of a hassle. The second roadblock was manned by two U.S. Forest Service police officers who were not locals. I stopped my pickup at the roadblock and right into a strange but ultimately beneficial situation. In front of me was a dirty, middle aged man leaning out of a diesel pickup screaming at the officers. He was a neighbor of mine who was doing contract tree felling work for California Fire. While he was out sawing down burnt trees that were threatening power lines, the law had decided to block his only road home. He was rightfully upset. I got out of my truck and chatted with the officers, who were glad that I wasn’t someone who would yell at them. I quickly learned the rules; cars or people shall not pass. It was time to look for loopholes. I asked if material could pass the checkpoint. That seemed to stump them, and they had to call their supervisor to ask. I eventually got the answer– yes, I could drop the stuff over the checkpoint, and, no, they would not arrest my wife when she came to pick it up. I started stacking animal feed and gasoline cans over the checkpoint. A crowd of my angry neighbors started to gather and wanted to know why the police were letting me drop my stuff past their checkpoint but not letting them go home. I did not hear the answer the officers gave over the shouting. I was hoping that they would get so distracted by the crowd that I could sneak home. However, by the time I was done stacking, the officers had given up a hopeless and deteriorating situation and left. I remember being irritated that I had stacked all this stuff neatly for my wife and now I would have to put it all back in the truck and drive home.

Lessons Learned

  1. The police and National Guard are staffed by human beings. If a disaster is limited in scope it is likely to be secured by professional officers who are firm but flexible and know when to defuse. Try talking to them. You will find, in most cases, that they are human beings who will find ways to bend the rules for the good of the situation.
  2. The government is trying to help you, really. Far too many preppers view the government’s role in a disaster with suspicion. This should not be your initial reaction. The soldiers or officers you will likely encounter are really there to help you. Try to look at the situation from their point of view.
  3. Your neighbors are a good source of intelligence. Get on friendly terms with at least some of your neighbors. Before I got back to the evacuation area, neighbors were filling my wife in on the intelligence picture with critical information about road blocks and road closures.

Things We Could Have Done Better

On the whole, we were much better prepared for this disaster than most. We were sitting on a mountain of water and food. We had medical supplies and the knowledge to use them. (I’m a medical device engineer, and my wife was a nurse.) However, here are some things I wished I had done better and will being adding to my disaster preparations:

  1. Have different kinds of checklists for different situations. I plan on creating two types of checklists. One type of checklist will deal with staying put. This checklist will be fairly long and will run in order of most important to least important things needed to set up my home for prolonged isolation and defense. The other type is a series of bug out checklists with mobilization times. I plan to make them in 10 minute, 1 hour, and 10 hour increments. The 10 minute checklist will only contain the essentials. The one hour will have a little more, and so on. These sorts of checklists would have been invaluable in knowing what to take and what to leave. Remember, you will not have 100% mental capabilities in a crisis. Pre-planning will free up your precious cognitive capacity.
  2. A gas tight, fireproof shelter. Not having to contemplate evacuation, due to a disaster, is a huge advantage. You can build a shelter to suit almost any likely disaster.
  3. Noisemakers and tripwires. I think I would have slept a lot better had we been surrounded by a thorough early warning system. Anything you can do to preserve your ability to rest is important.
  4. Solar phone/battery charger. Firing up an entire generator or starting your car to charge a cell phone is very wasteful. You can greatly reduce your generator fuel requirements if you can charge your phone and radio with the sun or a crank handle.
  5. Design a road block. A crash-resistant gate that I can open for emergency vehicles is a great way to deter looters. If they can’t get a car or van near your place, they will go somewhere else.

Aftermath of the Almost 2000 Structures Destroyed

Of the 2,000 structures destroyed by the Valley Fire, about 1,600 were actual homes; 20% of the land area in Lake County burned in 2015. Four people died, and four firefighters were evacuated to burn units but survived. Those who died were either unable or unwilling to flee. I had done business with one of those who died. He refused to leave his home and was burned alive. I did some crying in the weeks that followed. It is hard to see ten concrete slabs in a neat row where houses once stood. The tent cities became huge and dangerous places to live. Every day, I drive past at least one car with its plastic bodywork melted. There is some hope though. As of February, 2016, almost 500 homes were in the process of being rebuilt and the tent cities are empty. Everyone I know is getting ready for the next fire, and so am I.