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Early morning evacuation stirs residents

Matt Zalaznick

Authorities are calling Friday morning’s first-ever mass evacuation in the valley a success though some residents were both irritated and confused about being driven from their homes at 4 a.m.Avon police and Eagle County sheriff’s deputies went door to door alerting residents. The emergency “reverse-911″ system was also used to contact homeowners, authorities say.Some residents say they didn’t receive calls or visits from police. That may be because not all of Wildridge was evacuated, only homes closest to the five-acre fire.”If anybody thinks (the authorities) overreacted, they’ll sleep better tonight and they’ll be sleeping in their own beds, instead of a shelter,” says Michael Hazard, who drove to Wildridge Friday morning to check on his mother.”The entire hillside had 15- to 20-foot flames the entire way up and, when you saw that, you know they did not over react,” Hazard says.But resident Andy Dolan says he didn’t think the flames were close enough to be threatening.”I wasn’t really worried,” Dolan says. “I knew the fire wasn’t close to us and I almost didn’t leave to tell you the truth. I knew it was on top of the hill and we weren’t in any danger.”I honestly don’t even think Wildridge should have been evacuated,” Dolan says.Power was shut off for about a half an hour because flames were burning close to power lines along Metcalf Road. While power was out, cordless phones didn’t work. Authorities also say the emergency reverse-911 calls will not get through to residents who have an active solicitation block on their phones.”We did not get a call. The power was out so none of our phones were working,” Dolan says. “I heard my neighbor talking, and I got up and shut the window. Then a buddy of mine banged on the door about two minutes later.”Eagle River Fire Battalion Chief Cip Tafoya says residents can’t always depend on cordless or electric phones.”It would be a good idea to have at least one phone in your home that did not require electricity to work,” Tafoya says.Town and fire officials say the evacuation was an excellent test for a more dangerous fire in the future. They also said it should encourage people to be prepared to evacuate their homes at a moment’s notice.”It wasn’t my call but I agee with it,” Avon Town Manager Bill Efting says. “This was a reality check that happened to be a fire drill that I think everyone of us can learn from in our own homes.”Eagle River Fire Chief Charlie Moore says he called for an evacuation at 3:30 a.m. because there was a serious risk the fire could have spread.”The fire had advanced to within an eighth of a mile from the nearest structure and was still moving,” Moore says. “Due to the extreme dry conditions and high winds, we chose to err on the side of safety for the residents of Wildridge.”Wildfires in Colorado and the Western U.S. this summer have destroyed thousands of homes and several firefighters have died battling the blazes.”It’s amazing with the summer Colorado’s having, with the homes and lives that have been lost, that anyone would question having to get up a little early,” Efting says.Firefighters urge residents to prepare an evacuation kit in case they have to leave their homes quickly. The kit should have a flashlight, overnight clothes including a jacket or sweater for cold weather, a three-day supply of any critical medications and a list of important phone numbers, says Lt. Chuck House, fire inspector with the Eagle River Fire Protection District.”I would also get together a list of things I want to grab right away, so at three or four in the morning, when the phone rings telling you to leave, you don’t have to think a whole lot,” House says. “Grab documents, grab photos, whatever it is that’s important to you, and get in your car and get to the evacuation center.”Most residents didn’t panic on their way out of Wildridge, Dolan says.”Leaving Wildridge, I would believe that it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen,” he says. “It looked like a big rock concert, everybody lining up to leave at the same time. But there was no delay by any means.”Jim Buckner, who lives on Old Trail Road, says he didn’t hear a reverse-911 call because the ringer on his telephone was turned off. Buckner says his roommate woke him up around 4:20 a.m. and he put his dog in his car and packed dog food, insurance files, a sleeping bag, a tent, the clothes that were in his dryer and a family reunion folder with photos.”I’m a mountain biker, and I ride a lot,” Buckner says. “I knew I could orient my way out if I needed to through Singletree. There’s always a back way out.”Efting called the wildfire and evacuation a crucial learning experience for both authorities and residents.”I know people were a little upset because they got woken up, but I would do the same thing again,” Efting says. “This is something new we all went through last night and I look at it as an opportunity.”Vail Daily Arts & Entertainment Editor Wren Wertin, a Wildridge resident, contributed to this report.


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