Wildridge evacuation called a success
That’s the way it looked early Friday to the firefighters battling a snarling, five-acre wildfire in Wildridge that forced authorities to call for the valley’s first-ever mass evacuation.
At about 4 a.m., Eagle River Fire Chief Charlie Moore decided it was too dangerous for residents of lower portions of Wildridge to stay in their homes.
“Anybody can decide to evacuate when the fire’s in the backyard, but by then it’s too late,” Moore says. “It’s a tough call. You have to think about what the situation will be in an hour and we didn’t expect the fire was going to stop at the ridge .”
Authorities say the Wildridge wildfire erupted at about 2:20 a.m. when a fuse blew on a transformer pole up the hill behind shops on lower Metcalf Road. Swirling winds fanned the flames quickly.
Photographer Carl Lindbloom was working late in his Metcalf Road shop when the fire broke out. He was the first to call 911.
“I heard something outside and I thought it was a deer,” Lindbloom says. “I looked out and the fire was about the size of a fire in a garbage can.”
Lindbloom says he began backing up computer files and gathering his cameras as the flames scrambled up the hill. The fire’s rapid movement made firefighters nervous about homes on Saddleridge Loop and Fox Lane, Moore says.
“The first thing that was going through our minds when the fire was creeping uphill was, if it crested, there were 30 mph winds at the top, where there’s a large field of sagebrush that goes directly to Saddleridge Loop and Fox Lane,” Moore says. “If the fire got into the sagebrush, that would put it at the homes in 15 to 30 minutes.”
Once Moore called the evacuation, police went door to door and emergency dispatchers began calling residents, using the new emergency reverse-911 system to alert them and tell to leave their homes.
Firefighters quickly moved in to battle the blaze from above – but once fire equipment is moved into a neighborhood it can be nearly impossible to evacuate residents, Moore says.
“We need people out in their vehicles before we move the trucks in, because we’re laying hose and we’re blocking streets,” Moore says.
While some residents were frustrated about being evacuated in the wee hours of the morning, two other things appear to have added confusion to the evacuation.
First, because the fire was burning so close to powerlines, electricity was temporarily shut off to Wildridge to prevent the risk of live wires falling on firefighters.
Without power, many residents’ cordless phones –which require electricity –didn’t work when some of the reverse-911 calls were made.
“In your home, you ought to have at least one phone that’s not cordless and put it somewhere where you’re going to hear it at night,” Moore says.
Moore suggests residents who don’t want to give up a cordless phone buy a splitter for their phone wire. That way the cordless phone could remain next to a phone that doesn’t require electricity to function, he says.
Residents should also have a flashlight near their beds because many Wildridge residents, – some who had already planned what to take with them in an evacuation – were caught in the dark when the power was shut off.
“I knew exactly what I was going to take, but without a flashlight it’s just too hard to find things,” says Wildridge resident Marty Orcutt.
Secondly, not all of Wildridge was evacuated, which may have confused some residents who weren’t required to leave their homes. Some believed they had been forgotten by authorities.
But overall, though many people were startled and nervous, the evacuation went smoothly, resident Andy 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.”
Avon Town Manager Bill Efting says he’s heard from a few angry residents, but firefighters made the right decision.
“Any time you wake people up at four-in-the-morning, it’s a confusing situation at best,” Efting says. “None of us function well waking up from a dead sleep and jumping in our car with our family and our photo albums. It’s not a situation we’re used to.”
Both Efting and Moore say improvements can be made in how authorities passed information along to evacuated residents.
Moore said there should have been a central location where authorities could have told residents what was going on with the fire. Efting says the town should have put out signs along the road –similar to the ones that flash messages along Interstate 70 –to tell residents where the evacuation center is located.
“For the first time it was ever done I think it went as well as it was going to go,” Efting says. “It’s something we can practice for and talk about but until it happens you never know what works for sure and what doesn’t.
“We’re leaving our homes,” he adds, “during a summer of wildfires that have destroyed homes other places. We don’t have much information, but we’ve just got to trust the people that are telling us to leave.”
Authorities did not evacuate all of Wildridge because they were confident they could stop the fire before it threatened upper portions of the neighborhood, Moore says.
In the midst of the blaze,firefighters from Summit County were rushing to the scene and an air-tanker crew readied for take-off at daybreak. Authorities called off the tanker, however, when firefighters got the upperhand around dawn.
“We learned a lot,” Moore says. “Certainly, the citizens learned a lot about being prepared. Hopefully we won’t have to go through this again. But if we do I would make the same decision.”
Headline: Wildfire evacuation tips
Byline: By Matt Zalaznick
Word Count: 694 words
Firefighters say it’s extremely important residents make evacuation plans long before a wildfire threatens. To prevent confusion and panic, residents should create –and practice – a family disaster plan in the event of an evacuation:
– Post emergency telephone numbers by every phone.
– Find out how you will be warned.
– Discuss with your family exit routes and where to go and what to bring.
– Pick a meeting place a safe distance from your home in case returning home is not an option.
– If you have children in school or day care, find out the facilities’ evacuation policy and where your child will be.
– Choose an out-of-state friend or relative as “check-in contact” for everyone to call. Make sure you give this telephone number to all who may be concerned about you.
– Arrange for temporary housing at a nearby home outside the threatened area.
– Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Tell each family member where this container is and who is responsible for it.
– Show responsible family members how and when to shut off gas at the meter.
– Give a trustworthy neighbor a key and a plan in case you are not home and there are children, elderly or disabled persons or pets in jeopardy.
– Keep special equipment and pet carriers ready to go and in an easily accessible location. Pets often panic and try to hide, run back in the house or jump out of the car. Keeping them in a covered pet carrier will contain them safely and enable you to concentrate on the evacuation process.
Part of the plan includes assembling a disaster supply kit, including the following:
– Three-day supply of water (a gallon per person per day) and food that will not spoil.
– One change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
– A first aid kit that includes all family members prescription medications.
– Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
– An extra set of car keys and credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks.
– Sanitation supplies.
– Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members.
– Extra pair of eyeglasses for each family member.
If you think a wildfire is approaching:
– Place vehicles in the garage pointing out with the windows up and leave keys in the car.
– Place your valuables in the vehicle.
– Close the garage door, but leave it unlocked. Disconnect the garage door opener if applicable, so that it can be opened manually.
– Connect all garden hoses.
The are several ways residents can get information on approaching wildfires:
– First tune into your local radio station for evacuation alerts and information.
– You may be notified by a reverse-911 call. If you are not home a message will be left on your answering machine. If you have caller block, please disengage this feature until the wildfire season is completely over. Reverse-911 is not affected by the new Colorado no-call list.
– You may be notified by any fire or law enforcement
official announcing an evacuation thru the use of their public address
– If advised to do so, evacuate immediately.
There are several things to remember when evacuating:
– Wear protective clothing: sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face. Do not wet your clothes – moisture only transfers more heat to your skin.
– Take your disaster supply kit.
– Lock your home.
– Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
– Choose a route away from fire hazards or the route emergency personnel has designated for you.
– If you are absolutely sure you have time, take steps to protect your home.
– Close windows, vents, doors, blinds, non-combustible window coverings or heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
– Turn off pilot lights and shut off gas at the meter.
– Open fireplace damper and close fireplace screens.
– Move flammable furniture and combustible patio furniture to the center of the home away from windows and sliding glass doors.
– Turn a light on in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.
– Seal attics and ground vents.
– Turn off propane tanks.
– Source: Eagle River Fire Protection District