Mountain Disaster Preparedness presents a forum on evacuation: ‘What to know, what to expect and what to do’

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This photo was taken on the day Fern Valley and Idyllwild residents were ordered to evacuate as the Mountain Fire changed direction and threatened Fern Valley. Photo by Jenny Kirchner

Mountain Disaster Preparedness, the local nonprofit in the forefront of citizen disaster preparation measures, will present a forum about issues surrounding mandatory disaster evacuation.

Mike Feyder, MDP president, said the topic is important now for a number of reasons: that many new residents have moved to the Hill since the 2013 Mountain Fire, the most recent mass evacuation of Idyllwild and Fern Valley residents; that greater-than-normal rainfall will produce more fire fuel and increase wildfire risk; and that evacuation could come without advance warning, unlike the Mountain Fire that began on Monday and evacuation was not ordered until midday Wednesday.

Feyder noted the Mountain Fire evacuation was textbook and orderly largely because of residents’ two-day notice that evacuation could be called at any time. “The next time might be different,” he said.

The Mountain Fire began at 1:43 pm. Monday, July 15, and burned for 16 days until full containment on July 30. Idyllwild and Fern Valley residents were ordered to evacuate on Wednesday, July 17, and allowed to return on Sunday, July 21.

Feyder said representatives from Cal Fire, Idyllwild Fire, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, County Emergency Management and the Red Cross would attend and speak.

He cited the following questions as ones he has asked to have covered by attending representatives: how mandatory evacuations are called and what are the markers for calling them; how will residents be notified; how much time is allowed; what things to take; what security would be provided for homes, businesses and vehicles left behind and by what agency; what do people do who don’t have transportation; where would shelters be organized for people and animals; how do residents learn about the lifting of the evacuation order; and what identification must residents carry to be readmitted after evacuation (important since most Hill driver’s licenses list post office boxes, not street addresses).

Feyder stressed that wildfire could come at the worst possible time — during a weekend or holiday festival when tourists, who have little knowledge of Hill roads or fire danger, could complicate orderly evacuation. Feyder also questioned whether some evacuees might try to leave using fire roads, increasing the danger of getting stuck or disoriented by smoke.

But primarily, Feyder was concerned about residents who refuse to leave. “Those who stay put an additional strain on first responders,” he noted.

Feyder said the format would encourage audience questions at the time of officials’ presentations, not at the end of the meeting.

The forum, “Evacuation of the Hill: What to Know, What to Expect and What to Do” takes place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, in the Idyllwild Library Community Room. Seating may be limited, given the nature of the presentation. The event is open to the public and there is no cost to attend.

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