What to do if Wildfire Threatens? Keep Calm and Carry Your Cellphone

In an emergency, Eugene, Ore., officials can tap into area cell towers to send evacuation and other safety information to cellphones in a certain area.

by Elon Glucklich, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore. / August 17, 2018
The wind-whipped Eagle Creek fire on the Oregon side of Columbia River Gorge, as viewed the evening of September 4, 2017, from Beacon Rock Golf Course on the Washington side. TNS

(TNS) - The unthinkable happens: Fire sparks near a residential area, wind-fanned flames blow on trees and houses, and conflagration threatens the neighborhood.

What should you do next?

Keep calm and keep your lines of communication open, say fire, police and local emergency management officials.

"If something like that happened, we would be communicating it everywhere," Eugene spokeswoman Caitlin Estes said. "It would be on our website, on our social (media) channels ... some sort of text message sent out. We would be putting it everywhere possible."

Eugene would adopt the three-level evacuation process used by fire officials across the state, Estes said. A level one notice would advise residents of the possible need to evacuate. Level two would require residents to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. Level three would require immediate evacuation.

In an emergency, city officials can tap into area cell towers to send evacuation and other safety information to cellphones in a certain area, Eugene, Ore., Emergency Manager Program Manager Kevin Holman said.

But instead of quickly planning an escape route in the event of a catastrophic fire, residents should expect police officers and fire crews to be knocking on doors to alert them of the best way to safety.

"You just don't know, there are too many variables for us to predict anything," Holman said of escaping a large fire. "I would listen to the radio, and I would keep my cellphone on and wait for (Eugene Springfield Fire) to give me instructions on what to do. That would be the right thing to do."

The emergency management department coordinates the city's police, fire and medical response in a large-scale incident such as a fire, earthquake or flood. As part of the city's emergency operations plan, fire officials have mapped out some areas where residents in fire-prone neighborhoods would likely evacuate to.

"But we try to not just release that information" in advance, Holman said. Part of that secrecy is due to terrorism risks, he said. But it's also because conditions can change so fast in an emergency that the supposed best way to safety on paper may be the worst option in reality.

"We may not use that area," he said. "If it's the wrong information, you could get hurt or killed."

Follow Elon Glucklich on Twitter @EGlucklich. Email elon.glucklich@registerguard.com.


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