RAMONA, Calif. -
Ramona is one step away from having a new emergency exit.
The Ramona Emergency Evacuation Route needs final approval from the Ramona Municipal Water District later this month. If that approval is given, 40,000 Ramona residents will have another option if they are ordered to evacuate their homes.
The Ramona Community Planning Group has been working on the evacuation route for four years. The idea was formed after the Witch Creek fire threatened to burn the East County town down in 2007. Thousands were stuck in bottleneck traffic along state Route 67 trying to escape.
"We all had family members and friends stuck in that gridlock on 67 for four hours to get out of Ramona," said Ramona Community Planning Group member Jim Piva. "It was crazy. It was absolutely chaos."
The six-mile route would take motorists from northern Ramona across several grazing fields, where it would eventually meet up with SR-67 further out of town.
Opponents worried openly about the safety of the route, with some fearing it would also be susceptible to fire. Piva dispelled that by pointing out the route goes through a grazing field and there isn't any brush.
"If it even helps one family keep from being caught in a firestorm, that it will be worth it," said Ramona resident Teresa Warner, who couldn't escape in the traffic in 2007.
Warner said she hoped there would be a better route to take capacity off SR-67.
"It's not the 100-percent best one, but it's a workable one," she said.