Jones Fire stress tests Nevada County, CA’s emergency planning, infrastructure – mop up underway

The view from Barr Ranch looking toward the Nevada City, Grass Valley area on August 22, 2020. Air Quality has been poor across much of northern California due to wildfires - photo: Alert Wildfire, Nevada Seismo Lab

At its peak, the Jones Fire, over the course of a few days, displaced roughly 16,000 people in the Nevada City, Grass Valley region and destroyed 5 structures.

Pascale Fusshoeller is the long-time editor of YubaNet and a veteran wildfire reporter based in the Nevada City area.

“The Jones fire is officially 35 percent contained this morning, and firefighters are confident enough that all evacuations have been lifted. The repopulation is complete, and Highway 49 between Nevada City and North San Juan is open again. So those are all signs that they’re confident that the lines that have been wind tested will hold and that they’re just mopping up. They’re backhauling a lot of the equipment and the hoses, removing trash, cleaning up the dozer lines, and the handlines rehabilitation and suppression repair.”

Starting on Monday August 17, mercurial winds and steep, narrow topography drove the Jones Fire up the Yuba Canyon and toward populated areas in a matter of hours.

“At the height of the evacuations, there were over 16,000 homes evacuated,” Fusshoeller said. “But thanks to the work of the County, their system, the Ready Nevada County System, people were notified via Code Red, which is the emergency notification system through the radio stations, through the local media, we pushed out their message, and I would say 99 percent of the people who got a mandatory evacuation warning left and made room so that the firefighters could work.”

Fusshoeller said advance planning for the accommodation of temporary refugees in shelters during the pandemic paid dividends in that refugees could safely shelter at safe social distances.

“What also worked really well was the cooperation between law enforcement and fire, which is not always a given on fires. That worked incredibly well. They actually had a law branch directly embedded in the incident command, and Sheriff Shannan Moon coordinated the whole law branch with officers coming from – I saw Sacramento County. I saw Roseville. I mean, lots of agencies who came who then were patrolling the areas and also helping people with evacuations. That worked really well,” Fusshoeller said.

According to the US Census Bureau, the poverty rate in Nevada County is 12.1 percent. Regarding electronic technology, according to the Census, 91.5 percent of households own a computer. Nearly 85 percent of Nevada County households have a broadband internet connection.

The upshot is, many in the County do not use electronic communications of any type, so how did officials notify off-the-grid residents of an evacuation order?

“Nevada County was the first county where every law enforcement agency now has the two-tone sirens, the European sirens that were added to the all the patrol cars, and that those sirens are only used when it means immediate evacuation.

“So they were driving on all the roads. They knocked on every single door and made sure that people got out even in those more isolated very rural areas where … I live on a county road that is a, it’s a dead end road, but it’s probably one of the longest dead-end roads in Nevada County, and they would come, and then you hear the sirens, and then there’s a knock on the door that says ‘hey, you got to go now.'”

Recreational assets in the area of the fire have been affected. Several of the more popular trails with Yuba River access are closed.

“I think it’s worth mentioning that state parks have closed. In the fire area, they have closed all the parking lots, and Independence Trail is also closed because unfortunately, there is damage to that trail, to the flume and the ramp, so that is closed. So if you were planning on coming to the river, now’s not a good time.”


Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and once served as news director at KVMR radio in Nevada City. Support his work in the Ally.