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Medford launches new disaster tools

After Almeda fire, city officials create evacuation map and online guide to help residents get prepared

A new interactive evacuation map should help steer Medford residents in the right direction in case another Almeda fire roars to life.

The city on its website, MedfordOregon.gov/BePrepared, offers various escape routes from the city depending on where you live.

On the website, there is also an area to sign up for emergency notifications.

After last summer’s Almeda fire, which destroyed 2,500 residences, local emergency managers are stepping up efforts to get people prepared in case disaster strikes.

“The Almeda fire really opened a lot of people’s eyes,” said Aaron Ott, city emergency management coordinator.

Ott suggested parents sit down with their children to discuss how to prepare in case they need to evacuate.

On the interactive map, the city is divided up into 14 zones, offering various escape routes in case of emergency. The zones are identified by various names, such as MD-13, which encompasses downtown Medford.

The Mail Tribune, at 111 Fir St., for instance, is in MD-13 and has a number of options to get out of town, including West Main Street, West Jackson Street or West McAndrews Road.

Ott said the emergency notifications will alert residents to travel in a certain direction to get away from an approaching fire. He said it’s important that residents familiarize themselves with the particular zone they are living in.

The alerts will generally direct residents to a particular place, such as Rogue Valley Mall or The Expo.

He said the emergency alert system, criticized last summer because many residents didn’t get notified during the Almeda fire, has been made more robust.

Ott said more officials now have the authority to send out notifications to residents. Ott said he will have the ability to send notifications out to Medford residents to warn them they need to leave if a fire is approaching.

Sending out alerts has to be managed carefully because roads can quickly get jammed. A fire near Central Point last September caused gridlock on many streets as residents attempted to drive way.

The city’s website also has an evacuation checklist and offers a list of items needed to prepare for a disaster.

Information is available in both English and Spanish on the website.

The city encourages residents to write down their zone number, review routes and print a copy of the map before the next emergency.

“It is our goal to arm our residents with preparedness knowledge, encourage them to create a disaster plan, practice ways out of their neighborhood, and be prepared for emergency situations,” Ott said.

The mapping tool is available only for residents within the city limits or in Fire District No. 2.

This region is also expected to sustain major damage if a major earthquake hits, potentially wiping out access to Interstate 5.

Ott said the interactive map is designed to deal with fires, but he said some of its abilities could be used in other disasters, including earthquakes or hazardous spills.

Fire officials are already expecting an active fire season this summer, particularly after a dry winter.

Already 58 small fires have popped up in Southern Oregon since March 1.

The two largest fires, each more than 30 acres, were the April 21 Bearwallow Ridge fire west of Applegate Lake, and the April 15 Tarter Gulch fire west of Cave Junction.

Fire season on lands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry in southwest Oregon officially began May 12.

Freelance reporter Damian Mann can be reached at dmannnews@gmail.com.