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Evacuation: Know your zone and prepare ahead of time

Preparing for an evacuation is one of the more challenging consequences of increased fires caused primarily by climate change. Our challenge is heightened by the mountainous forests surrounding us, which limit our exit route options, and by a deepening drought.

The Ashland Police Department and Ashland Fire & Rescue have been working for two years on a zone-based evacuation system. The idea is to minimize road congestion by evacuating only the sections of town that are under threat.

This spring Ashland received an in-depth evacuation study report by KLD Engineering confirming that a zone-based evacuation system was the most important change we needed to make. And we’re ready.

Each Ashland address will soon receive a postcard that clarifies its new evacuation zone and outlines the Be Ready, Be Set, Go notification levels. Interactive zone maps are also available at www.ashland.or.us/evacuate and on the back of fliers available at many stores, the library, and Ashland Fire Station No. 1 downtown.

In an evacuation, every resident signed up for Nixle or with a listed landline will receive alerts advising which of our 10 zones are in each of three levels of evacuation. To receive notifications via text, send a message to 888777 as the recipient, and in the message field simply type our ZIP code, 97520. If you want email alerts or have an unlisted landline, you can sign up at www.ashland.or.us/nixle. Also, you can tune to 1700 AM radio as another information source.

The KLD report also highlighted several other important evacuation issues:

• Some of us will be tempted to evacuate with more than one vehicle. But with Ashland’s limited egress routes, that would significantly add to traffic congestion. Taking just one car will save time, and possibly lives.

• An important step each of us can take is to have a “go kit” packed and ready before the alert comes. Prepare a go kit for each family member. Check out the list of what should go in your kit by clicking on “Get Ready” at www.ashland.or.us/evacuate.

• You may not be able to get home if you work out of town. Even if you manage to do so, it adds traffic at a critical time. Prepare in advance so you don’t have to return home, particularly on Red Flag days as declared by the National Weather Service at www.weather.gov/mfr.

• If you have unattended animals or other special needs that make leaving more difficult, it could be wise to leave during Level 2 (Be Set), even if your zone isn’t told to “Go!” (or Level 3).

• KLD’s report analyzed and addressed many questions voiced after the Almeda fire, including: “Why aren’t we adding more exits on I-5? What about removing the ‘road diet?’ Do traffic lights impede evacuations?” These questions are answered in the Frequently Asked Questions tile and in the study summary at www.ashland.or.us/evacuate.

• Red Flag day parking restrictions would create additional traffic lanes, allowing firefighters quicker access on narrow streets while residents evacuate. This has been implemented for many years in California communities. This has not been adopted and will be discussed as an additional strategy in the future.

• Managing flammable vegetation both inside town and on the outskirts is critical. It buys time for evacuation by slowing and reducing flame spread, helps firefighters, and reduces citizen exposure. See www.fireadaptedashland.org for more information about making your home and landscaping safer for you and the community.

Stephen Gagne is chair of the Ashland Wildfire Safety Commission, and Chris Chambers is Wildfire Division chief.