In Case of a Major Wildfire, South Lake Tahoe Officials Set Up Escape Plans

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- The city of South Lake Tahoe feeds off tourists who flock there during the summer months.

But after the devastating fires in Northern California, it's now concentrating on how to get tourists and locals out of the Lake Tahoe Basin in an emergency.

On any given summer weekend the city's 21,000 population swells to over 100,000 people. With only one major highway in and out of the area, a major evacuation has become a big concern for emergency responders.

City officials know the risk involved. Inadequate evacuation plans contributed to deaths in recent wildfires that encroached into inhabited areas.

“The Camp Fire and the fire in Santa Rosa both demonstrated to us that there's a new paradigm," said South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler. “We're a population of people, plus all the visitors want to leave at the same time, we know our roads are going to be impacted immediately and virtually at a standstill.”

That’s one reason the city has launched an emergency preparation website featuring an interactive map of all its neighborhoods. Focus in on a street and it gives you primary and secondary escape routes.

It also sets aside safe refuge areas where people can wait out a fire event safely without leaving the area.

And going one step further, commercial boat operators and marinas on the lake have agreed to evacuate up to several thousand people if required.

“The marinas and the boat operators will assist us in getting people to safe parts of the lake, perhaps across the lake,” Chief Uhler explained.

The plan is not perfect. Escape routes can still be in the path of a moving fire and evacuations by boat are a backup option that is unproven.

City officials say having a plan is better than no plan at all.

“What we’re doing here today is trying to give the best information possible to make sure people can stay safe in the event something terrible happens,” said South Lake Tahoe Communications Director Chris Fiore.

City officials know evacuation plans are not on the radar of most tourists who come to Lake Tahoe. That’s why they’re passing out fliers, so they can get out more information.

On the South Lake Tahoe website is information on how people can get phone and text alerts during an emergency and how to get instructions should cell phone service be knocked out.

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