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Painful Lessons From 2017 Fires Helped Sonoma County Better Prepare For Kincade Fire

SONOMA COUNTY (KPIX 5) -- While the past week has caused plenty of stress and loss in Sonoma County, many are saying the Kincade Fire has shown a marked improvement in the region's ability to respond to a wildfire.

On Oct. 8, 2017, when flames erupted across Napa and Sonoma counties, most of those who ran for their lives that night had little to no warning.

"There is a big difference between October '17 and today, and the biggest difference is we had some warning," says Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick.

"We had really good predictions from Cal Fire and the weather folks to tell us where it was going to be going. On top of that, we now have the alert and warning systems in place that we didn't have in 2017. We were able to warn these people hours in advance."

Essick says two years of effort paid off over the last week. In the early hours it was better information, earlier warnings and practiced evacuation plans. Once people were safely out of the way, the cavalry could deploy in full.

"It was like going to war," Essick says of the Cal Fire response. "You couldn't go more than a few hundred feet without having a fire truck and a water tender. Those men and women were ready for battle."

Cal Fire, who now prepositions crews in high risk areas, was everywhere. When embers shot past fire lines, there was someone with a hose. When homes caught fire, there was probably someone there to rip the burning wood away. And while homes were lost, entire neighborhoods were saved.

The general success of the entire effort is something we have heard from a Tubbs Fire survivor. Roland Hendel's dog Odin famously refused to leave his herd of goats in 2017.

"We're a little better prepared this time," Hendel says. "Me, personally. Odin is a veteran. Certainly fire crews and first responders have been very well prepared and the community as well."

For Cal Fire, this is a skill that has come with much practice over the past two years. They have chased flames all across this state. But for residents of the North Bay, learning how to better respond to wildfire is a lesson that has come with a tremendous price.

"We are learning," says Sheriff Essick. "Unfortunately, we are learning the hard way, through some very hard times. We as a community, as first responders, we are so much better at responding to these emergencies and we will continue to sharpen and hone our skills."

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