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MailTribune.com
  • City, fire officials tried to remain current with information

  • ASHLAND — As the Siskiyou fire slashed through the foothills south of town Monday, communication between officials and residents appeared at times to break down — leaving evacuees with misinformation or no information.
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  • ASHLAND — As the Siskiyou fire slashed through the foothills south of town Monday, communication between officials and residents appeared at times to break down — leaving evacuees with misinformation or no information.
    "Basically people want information at this time and it's so hard to get information because the people who have the information are fighting the fire," Lucy Edwards, Community Emergency Response Team coordinator with Ashland Fire & Rescue, said at about 2:30 p.m. Monday.
    The city's wildfire hotline, which residents were directed to call for information, was updated twice on Monday, at about 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. In between those times, residents were left wondering how to get information on the fire's progress and evacuation orders, they said.
    In order to update the hotline, the line has to be free of calls — which proved difficult as worried locals were consistently dialing the 552-2490 number, Edwards said.
    People were also directed to tune to radio station 1700 AM, but those who lived in the fire evacuation area — roughly between Timberlake Drive and Bellview Avenue — do not get reception, she said.
    So officials turned to face-to-face communication, knocking on doors to tell people to evacuate and setting up a CERT command center at First Baptist Church, 2004 Siskiyou Blvd.
    "I think generally people are doing an incredibly good job," Edwards said as the evacuations were taking place. "They're calm and they're thankful for the information."
    Some residents, however, were shaken by the evacuations and the pillars of smoke rising from the hills.
    "There have been one or two folks who have been very anxious," Edwards said.
    Marjorie Schumacher, 87, who was evacuated from her home on Apple Way, said she didn't receive any information about the fire or the evacuations until late in the afternoon.
    "It wasn't until a short time ago that I knew anything," she said at about 5 p.m. "They caught me in my nightgown."
    Communication also occasionally broke down between the agencies fighting the fire, said Brian Ballou, fire prevention specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry, the agency in charge of the fire.
    At 4:30 p.m., an update on the city's Web site, www.ashland.or.us, declared the fire fully contained, but it was in fact not contained at that time — and it still isn't, Ballou said.
    "That was misinformation that got published on the Web site and we tried to get it corrected it as quickly as we could," he said. "It was an error on someone's part." It remains unclear who updated the city's Web site to say that the fire was fully contained, Ballou said.
    Once the fire is fully contained — and out — Ballou plans to regroup with other fire officials and try to streamline communication efforts, he said.
    "We always do a post fire evaluation to try and do things in a more efficient manner," he said.
    Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.
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