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Evacuation education

Ashland Fire and Rescue is in the middle of a three-month campaign to prepare the community for fire season. This month is focused on evacuation.

The month of April was geared toward prepping homes and structures to be Firewise, and June’s focus is preparation for smoke.

According to AF&R’s Fire Adapted Communities Coordinator Alison Lerch, wildfire is going to happen, the smoke is going to hit and it’s crucial to be prepared before an emergency.

After the world watched terrifying videos of bumper-to-bumper traffic in the midst of the Camp fire as it swallowed Paradise, California, and took 85 lives, Ashland officials realized that could become the city’s fate.

The previous evacuation process pushed all traffic toward Siskiyou Boulevard on various collector streets.

But this system could quickly imitate the Paradise situation, so the City Council asked fire staff to reevaluate the routes last fall.

Whether that reevaluation took place was not answered in time for this story because of the recent resignation of Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi, as he was the one performing the evaluation.

Lerch said each evacuation will be unique and dependent on the location of the emergency, so it’s important for everyone to know multiple ways out of their neighborhood and the town.

“All evacuations are going to look different, which is why it’s so important for people to be ready and prepared in case of an evacuation,” Lerch said. “We really need everybody to be prepared and ready to leave safely and calmly if we’re going to have an evacuation.”

A practice evacuation for city departments is currently in the works and will most likely take place later this summer, Lerch said.

The fire, police and public works departments would work together along with Community Emergency Response Team volunteers to direct residents in an evacuation or other emergency, Lerch said.

Ashland not only borders the wildland urban interface zone, but houses are sprinkled into the forest and many are surrounded by extremely flammable vegetation.

Last year, the city passed a wildfire safety ordinance declaring the entire city of Ashland as a wildfire hazard zone.

Despite the preventative measures the community has taken, Ashland is still at a very high risk for wildfire, Lerch said.

There’s a lot involved in preparing your home, family and pets into leaving for an indefinite amount of time at any given moment, but the basics to keep in mind are the three types of evacuation:

Level 1 or Be Ready: According to Lerch, because of Ashland’s extreme wildfire risk, residents should always be ready to evacuate. This means ensuring one’s home is Firewise, having emergency supplies and important belongings ready to load up, ensuring everyone in the home is familiar with the evacuation plan and knowing the correct evacuation route to take.

Level 2 or Get Set: At this level of evacuation, residents must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. At this level, the town would be under significant danger and have a high threat of worsening conditions. Volunteer relocation is advised because the Level 2 alert may be the only evacuation notice given. If conditions worsen, resources may go toward tackling the emergency instead of notifying residents further.

Level 3 or Go: This level means there is no time to gather any belongings because you must leave immediately.

Lerch said the next step is knowing all the ways you can be informed and updated on the situation.

The best way, according to city public safety officials, is to sign up for city wide NIXLE alerts by texting 97520 to the recipient 888777. This will ensure the cellphone used receives all emergency alerts in Ashland. There’s also an option to sign up for less urgent community notifications.

To sign up without a cellphone, visit https://local.nixle.com/register/.

The city of Ashland has its own emergency radio broadcast station at 1700 AM.

Residents can also call the wildfire information hotline at 541-552-2490.

Lerch said as a part of the May campaign, the fire department has partnered with local businesses to hang fliers with evacuation information.

She said tourist-driven businesses in town such as hotels and restaurants will also have informational displays and pamphlets for guests, as well as the Plaza kiosk. She said there will be a push to encourage tourists to sign up for NIXLE while they are visiting.

City officials do have the ability to ping every cell phone in a given radius using the NIXLE system, but it must be an emergency.

The Ashland Fire and Rescue page on the city’s website, at https://bit.ly/2W2y18F, is loaded with handy resources from how to comply with burn bans to what to pack in a go-bag for evacuation and everything in between.

It’s extremely important to have a two-week emergency kit ready for evacuation, but also ready for any large-scale disaster such as an earthquake or flood, Lerch said.

Officials say that in the case of an extreme natural disaster, it could take responders up to two weeks to arrive. The kit should have enough supplies for all members of the family including pets.

It’s important to think of the little things that could make a huge difference in a disaster situation such as favorite toys for the kids and two weeks’ worth of important medications.

“If you have to evacuate and cannot return to your house, you need to bring important pictures, irreplaceable items and those important documents that you might need to start over again,” Lerch said.

A complete list of supplies that should be ready on hand can be found at https://bit.ly/2M1H9pp.

Lerch recommends stocking up on various supplies every time you go to the grocery store this month.

It’s also a good idea to check in with elderly or handicapped neighbors. Disabled residents who may not have help in an evacuation situation can call the Rogue Valley Council of Governments to be placed on a list. This list is given to all public safety officials, so they know the resident needs special assistance in their home. It’s not a guarantee that help will arrive.

The registration form and more information can be found at https://bit.ly/2JVXedK. Call 541-664-6674 for further information.

“Our city is at a very high risk of any type of wildfire; it could be a grass fire or a home-to-home conflagration, and so we need our citizens to understand that the risk is there and their preparedness is going to be key for effective evacuation,” Lerch said. “We’re very, very densely built. We have steep slopes and mature vegetation so we can really have any type of wildfire in our city, whether it starts from outside of the city and moves in or if it starts inside the city and moves out.”

Lerch said residents who are preparing their home to be Firewise can bring yard debris to a second cleanup day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 8 at the Valley View Transfer Station, 3000 N. Valley View Road. More information can be found at https://bit.ly/2K05kly.

AF&R is working on a survey to send to 2,100 randomly selected homes in the next couple of weeks. The survey is focused on residents’ perception of their wildfire risk when it comes to the safety of their home and their region.

The survey is tailored for Ashland, but the data will be sent to a national wildfire research center to use in comparison to other towns implementing similar research.

City officials will present the data results at a community forum, Lerch said.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Traffic moves through the intersection of Ashland St and Siskiyou Blvd in Ashland Tuesday morning.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings Traffic moves through the intersection of Ashland St and Siskiyou Blvd in Ashland Tuesday morning.