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Would you be ready to evacuate Vail?

Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyThe number of pine-beetle infested trees in Vail that could fuel a wildfire has driven police to draw up an evacuation plan for the town, its residents and visitors.
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VAIL ” You might get a text message. You might get a phone call. You might hear it on the radio, or see a fire truck riding through your neighborhood, blasting a message over loudspeakers.

The message might be: You have five minutes to evacuate.

If Kiryl Tsishkou of Vail had five minutes to leave his apartment, he would take his passport, his cell phone and his wallet, he said.



“First thing you have to take is your documents,” he said.

Vail officials say residents need to be ready for a quick evacuation. The most likely thing that would force an evacuation is a wildfire or a spill of hazardous material on the interstate, said Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger.



Tsishkou said he doesn’t worry too much about a wildfire sweeping through Vail. But, across town Wednesday, officials in Vail were practicing for the prospect of just that scenario.

Residents should go to http://www.ready.gov to find out what they should put in a emergency supply kit, Henninger said. That site lists things like water, food, a radio, a flashlight and a dust mask.

Vailites should also bring their passport, insurance documents, and even a child’s favorite toy, Henninger said.



Henninger has drafted an evacuation plan for the town, which calls for residents to go to designated evacuation centers such as the parking structures in Vail, or possibly Battle Mountain High School.

“I think every community needs to have an evacution-type plan,” Henninger said. “It’s something we need to think about.”

The plan must consider how people without cars would evacuate ” public transportation would be used. Also, people with disabilities must be evacuated ” those people should call the Vail police at 479-2201 now so authorities will know about their needs, Henninger said.

The evacuation would be more difficult in winter, when there could be as many as 45,000 people in town ” many of them visitors without cars. In the offseason, there might be less than 5,000 people.

As large wildfires were burning near the ski slopes of Sun Valley, Idaho, local officials were practicing for a fire on the slopes of Vail Mountain.

In the practice scenario, a house caught on fire on Forest Road and spread to the grass, then forest, on Vail Mountain.

In Wednesday’s exercise, residents were told to prepare to evacuate as the fake fire spread to 200 acres across the front side of the mountain. Interstate 70 was (supposedly) closed.

Dozens of police officers, firefighters and other government officials gathered in Donovan Pavilion, the central command for the pretend incident. Vail Resorts officials were there, too.

An incident commander briefed the crowd, and then different officials talked about where the fire was, where firefighters were, the possibility of evacuations and even how the news media was being handled.

Vail Mountain has its own plan for what would happen during a disaster, said Neil Colclough, Vail Mountain security manager.

“It’s too incident-specific to be able to comment,” Colclough said. “We’d be working with and under the direction of the government agencies.”

In the scenario Wednesday, 1,150 people were evacuated off the mountain, while 150 remained at Eagle’s Nest until it was safe to leave.

Henninger knows firsthand the importance of having a plan that can happen quickly if there’s a big wildfire. He was a police officer in California in the 1993, when wildfires quickly consumed some 450 homes in an afternoon.

“When Mother Nature gets in its mind to do something, there’s not a lot that we can do,” he said.

In California, police officers were going door-to-door telling people to leave, but that was slow, he said.

“At that time, we didn’t really have an evacuation plan,” he said.

Wildfires are a concern, Henninger said, especially with pine beetles killing lots of trees around Vail.

“That is definitely a possibility that we should be concerned about,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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