Residents of the Skyline West neighborhood in northwest Corvallis spent some of their Saturday in an unusual exercise: They practiced how they’d evacuate their neighborhood in the event of a fire or other emergency.
The hope, of course, is that this is not a set of skills that the neighborhood, or any other neighborhood, will ever need to use in a real-life situation.
But the facts belie that hope: Every year, another neighborhood in Oregon or elsewhere has to endure an evacuation as a wildfire or other natural disaster rolls through. And, as we saw last year with the devastating Camp Fire that wiped out Paradise, California, it’s not just neighborhoods situated in mostly rural areas that need to get ready for the possibility of evacuation.
The need to be prepared may be particularly high along the West Coast this summer, in the wake of a report last week from the National Interagency Fire Center. Most of the country can expect a normal wildfire season this year, the center reported, with one notable exception: The West Coast can expect another busy season.
The center, based in Boise, Idaho, said a heavy crop of grasses and fine fuels has developed across California and the West Coast, and should elevate fire potential as it dries throughout the summer. Despite the heavy rains of early April, those fuels already are drying out, and we’re seeing serious fires with the potential to make devastating runs, such as a blaze that started in a barn last week near Blodgett.
The fire center also noted that the Pacific Northwest has entered a period of moderate drought, which could spell an early fire season in the Cascade Range. The potential for significant wildfires is above normal west of the Cascade crest through August, according to the center.
In a recent editorial, we discussed the need to protect your home against wildfire, and creating that defensible space of flammable materials still is important. But you also need to be ready for the moment when it becomes necessary to leave it behind. The exercise over the weekend in the Skyline West neighborhood offers another reminder that we all would benefit from a bit of preparation.
Skyline West offers a complication: Only one road, Northwest Ponderosa Avenue, is available for residents to escape a fire or other emergency. And that road likely will be clogged with fire engines and other rolling stock being used by first responders. Unfortunately, this kind of complication is not unheard-of in the Western United States, especially in developments in what’s known as the wildland-urban interface.
Even if you live in an area with more than one road out, experts suggest that you take time to identify several possible routes to take to safety, paying particular attention to locations such as schools or fairgrounds that might be used as designated shelters. Practice driving those routes.
Have a plan ready for pets and livestock; keep pet carriers and leashes ready and put your name and cellphone number and your veterinarian’s name and office number on carriers.
Keep important documents in a fireproof safe or in a safety deposit box. Create password-protected digital copies in a second secure location.
Keep a pair of sturdy shoes and a flashlight near your bed in the event of a nighttime evacuation. Keep a list of emergency contacts — family, friends, doctors, insurance companies and so forth — in your emergency supply kit. And remember to include specific medical needs in that emergency supply kit, along with N95 respirator masks. Sign up for the Linn-Benton Alert Notification System; information on how to do that is available on each county’s website.
The important thing is to start planning now. By the nature of emergency evacuations, time is at a premium. The moment when wildfire crests a nearby ridge is not the time to start planning.