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Wildfire Season-Know the 5 Ps
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Tuesday, June 22, 2021
 

STORY BY ALEX duMauriee

I was already breathing smoke as I reached the end of my driveway. I drove down Indian Creek to leave the “one-way-out valley” as the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire raced across the ridges on the other side of Highway 75.

I was a few minutes away from home when it occurred to me that I had left my ski boots behind. I had laptops, hard drives, electronics and mostly things I could not replace without a hassle. But my boots!!! I had taken two seasons to break those in and they fit like slippers.

I COULD NOT REPLACE these I thought to myself and back I went. A terrible idea.

Boots thrown in the back and I was off down the only way out of Indian Creek. Trailers with horses, cars stuffed and tightly sealed against the smoke, I found myself in a butt-to-belt buckle situation. 

A caravan of neighbors emerged from out of every nook and cranny in the hills. They were roaring down the road at a frustrating 15 miles an hour. And, occasionally, the traffic on Highway 75 yawned enough space for a car to merge from the side roads.

When I first saw the flames in the night from my bedroom window, they seemed a few blocks away. Remember, fires move as the crows fly…for a minute. 

They don’t take the back roads or stop at intersections. They are temperamental and unpredictable.  They scream up hills and roll down canyons with terrifying speed.  Our valley is made up of many, many ‘ONE WAY OUT” canyons, gullies and dead ends that seem to suck the flames into a roar on a mission.

Like it or not, we could be looking at a wildfire in our rear-view mirror again this year, thanks to unrelenting dry, hot conditions.

Ketchum fire chief, Bill McLaughlin, who helped put out the Castle Rock Fire here in 2007, shared with me that approximately 87 percent of fires are caused by humans and 13% by lightning. But here in our valley 50 percent are caused by lightning.

Lightning is especially worrisome this year since precipitation is 5 inches below normal since Oct. 1, 2020. And July promises to be hotter than June with no rain in the forecast.

Blaine County is looking at High to Extreme fire danger between July 1 and the end of September.

Take it from me: It’s best to be prepared and to have a plan should you need to be evacuated.

Chief McLaughlin spoke of the essentials we need to be ready to take with us in an emergency—the 5 P’s, as he called them: 

1.People

2. Pets

3. Prescriptions

4. Photo

5. Papers

And Capt. Ron Taylor of Wood River Fire and Rescue suggested that people look at www.firesafemarin.org/preparedness/evacuation

The preparedness list is thorough. But you’ll want to add your own “absolutely essential” things to it.

This local website will give you up to date information on the status of the fires near the valley: https://www.blaineemergency.org/259/Wildfire

 

Another, https://inciweb.nwcg.gov, is the one I have used for years to track incidents in Idaho.

 

Having been evacuated twice, I have a few tips of my own: The first tip is to set your phones for alerts. The site www.nixle.com will give you specific fire locations and send you alerts according to your zip code.

And I learned from the Chief that there is an app called Code Red and CodeRED Mobile Alert at

https://public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/58D579DB8746

. You’ll have real time location specific alerts across the US and Canada.

Check it out:

https://public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/58D579DB8746

Know as much as you can before the fires hit. NOW, actually.

Chief McLaughlin, who came to Ketchum from Colorado, said that in Colorado only one in five residents were signed up for alerts. At the last minute, 911 became overloaded by the panic calls coming in from those who had not registered for alerts and firefighting personnel could NOT take all the calls. 

People were trapped and burned. One couple died in their driveway because the man, frustrated because his water system around the house didn’t seem to be working, went back to try to fix it. 

DON’T WAIT TO BE TOLD TO LEAVE. Don’t wait for the knock at your door. Timing is everything. 

Fire travels at five miles an hour. That’s one mile every 12 minutes.  And there is a domino effect for those trying to escape it. Traffic jams, smoke closes in, cars drive into ditches and clog the roads. And, no, night vision goggles don’t work in smoke.

At minimum, have that GO BAG prepared in advance…NOW would be good…and stash it in or near the car.  

As with winter in the mountains, keep your gas tank topped off. I have a tow strap in my car year around in case someone is in trouble. Think about what you need to carry in your car in case you find yourself blocked behind a fallen tree on the road or smoke tunes out the daylight. Phone connections fail not far north of town. Don’t expect a rescue. Set your jaw and know you may be on your own.

During the Beaver Creek Fire, I was nearly out of Bellevue—10 miles from my home. But, still, I found the smoke dense and unnerving. Shoulda coulda left sooner.

By the time I arrived in Twin Falls an hour and 20 minutes later, I was grateful to pull into a hotel, only to find a “No Vacancy” sign. We looked all over town, but our Sun Valley neighbors had beaten us to the rooms. Eventually, we had to drive all the way to Salt Lake City before we could rest.

So, an obvious tip: Call ahead for a room. Going back for my boots may have cost me a room…if nothing worse. 

A heads up to visitors…

I was evacuated from a hotel fire in Toronto one year in the middle of winter. Most of us thought it was bogus. It was not. 

I stood outside in the Canadian cold for 2 hours in flip flops, PJs and a raincoat. I froze.   I’ve never gone to bed in a hotel since that I didn’t have my passport, my shoes, a warm coat and some cash right by the door. Take your ID and your tickets home.

Thank you for taking care of one another, the animals and the senior citizens who are alone. This is one of the most ‘can do’ towns in the region. Let’s take the burden off the emergency rescue teams and the firefighters. Be prepared. Be thoughtful and be gone.

 Chief McLaughlin will be speaking about wildfires--our situation this season and how to prepare our properties and prep to leave on Zoom at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 24. Register for it via  kristin.fletcher@haileypubliclibrary.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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