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SD County Studies Emergency Evacuation Routes

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Aired 1/26/11

A new study is underway in San Diego to evaluate how difficult it is for rural residents to evacuate during an emergency.

A new study is underway in San Diego to evaluate how difficult it is for rural residents to evacuate during an emergency.

A dirt road leads through a field in Valley Center, located northeast of Escondido in San Diego County.
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Above: A dirt road leads through a field in Valley Center, located northeast of Escondido in San Diego County.

The $250,000 County of San Diego study will focus on back-country areas like Valley Center, located northeast of Escondido, where a handful of narrow, tree-lined roads are the only way out for the town’s 18,000 people.

Valley Center is where two residents died trying to escape the Paradise Fire in October 2003. Ashleigh Roach, 16, died when fire engulfed the car she was riding in. Nancy Morphew, 51, was overcome by flames as she tried to climb out of a ravine. She had accidentally driven her truck into the ravine while trying to position a horse trailer.

Valley Center Fire Protection District Fire Marshal George Lucia said the community is much more prepared for evacuations than during the last fires, but he said the town's infrastructure is complicated and it's putting residents at risk.

“The old-timers of Valley Center always describe the layout as like a wagon wheel,” he said. “Where the hub is Valley Center Road, and each of the outlining areas, you have to come down a spoke to get to it, you can never cross around. And this increases our response time, and also increases the escape time for people."

Lucia said planners are studying neighborhoods or sections that can be connected, either with new roads or emergency roads. “So that in the event of an emergency, you wouldn’t have to come back down to the center of town to escape, you could naturally cross over,” he explained.

The study will also look at routes in Jamul and Dulzura in East County. Planners will provide recommendations for improving evacuation routes, but developers will be relied on to build the roads and pay the bills.

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