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An Ashland Fire & Rescue firefighter at the Camp Fire site. Robert Stephens, Tim Hegdahl, Andrew Burns and Lance Menold were assigned to help. Photo courtesy of Ashland Fire & Rescue

Be sure you're on the emergency notification list

Though the wildfire tragedies in Paradise and Redding have shocked us and we are saddened by all that’s taken place, we need to learn from their loss. New residents may not know that we lost 11 homes in less than an hour in the 2010 Oak Knoll Fire and just a year prior we evacuated a large section of town during the Siskiyou Fire.

Ashland is vulnerable and, though Ashland Fire & Rescue is doing our best to lower wildfire risk, you can do the most important things to be ready to evacuate and prepare your home and property for a wildfire.

A safe and efficient evacuation is the most important element of protecting lives, and that’s our priority. Only when people are out of harm’s way can we focus on defending homes and putting out the fire. What can you do? SIGN UP FOR NIXLE, our community alerting system, right now.

On a cell phone, enter the number 888777 as the recipient of a text message and then type 97520 as the message. That’s it. If you only have a landline and it’s a listed number, we already have your number in Nixle, so you don’t need to do anything. If you have an unlisted number, go to our website at ashland.or.us/nixle and sign up. Also use this website to add an email address to your account.

What we’ve learned so far from Paradise and numerous other wildfire tragedies across the country is that it’s the little things that matter. Here’s a short list of inexpensive things just about anyone can tackle between now and next fire season:

Make a 5-foot, non-flammable buffer around all buildings. Nearly every home in Ashland has a combination of bark mulch or leaves and needles too close to flammable siding or decking. Rock, gravel, granite, lava rock, or finished compost are good choices.

Keep gutters clean. Embers are the biggest source of home ignitions and if your roof and gutters are covered in flammable leaves or needles, your home is vulnerable.

Screen openings. Areas under decks or other hard-to-reach places accumulate fine fuels you don’t notice, but embers will. Screen any opening you can’t easily keep clean by using 1/8 inch or finer metal mesh. Staple it to a non-wood backing for stability.

Keep your yard lean, clean and green. Remove all dead branches and leaves within and underneath your landscaping plants within 30 feet of your buildings. Plants often look healthy from the outside but are full of dead material inside and underneath, making them susceptible to fire.

Last, have your evacuation plan in place and practice it. The Ashland Is Ready Emergency Guidebook, complete with evacuation checklists, was mailed to all Ashland residents last year and can be downloaded at ashland.or.us/air.

Also, let’s all try and help each other by reaching out to friends, family and neighbors. If you, or someone you know, will need assistance during an emergency, develop a plan to help ensure you, or they, receive help. This can be aiding a neighbor who has mobility issues; creating a phone tree for family and friends to check in with one another; making sure you have contacts and notifications in place for relocation if there is an evacuation.

These thoughtful pre-actions can be of great assistance to authorities when they are attempting to determine the whereabouts and safety of residents after a disaster.

Additionally, if you have loved ones or friends who live in assisted living facilities, check in to determine what their emergency evacuation plans are and where they will relocate residents. I know from personal experience that this can be a time consuming and anxiety driven exercise when searching for someone important in your life who has been evacuated during an emergency.

We have begun the process of reevaluating our evacuation policies and processes. Much of what we have learned is these types of events are chaotic and terrifying. Our goal is to be prepared to deliver notifications as efficiently and effectively as possible. We reviewed our current practices and signage; looked at potential routes to reduce road congestion; upgraded our emergency notification process; communicated with schools, assisted living facilities and other critical infrastructure, all to have a more collective understanding of our community needs.

But in that moment of truth, we will need you, the citizens of Ashland to be prepared to respond appropriately and to be willing to lend a helping hand!

Michael D’Orazi is chief of Ashland Fire & Rescue. The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information, appears triweekly in the Tidings.

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