BEND, OR -- Reporting out of Hawaii indicates some in the path of the Maui fires had difficulty evacuating, due to blocked roads and little notice. With the high risk of wildfire in Central Oregon, a listener asked how gates blocking secondary access to some neighborhoods are opened fast enough during an evacuation.
Bend’s Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki tells KBND News those gates are the responsibility of the property owner, "If they do lock them, there’s a requirement within the fire code to have a fire department fast response locking system. We use a brand name called Knox. That allows the fire department to carry one key and it allows us to unlock that padlock or the box that then has keys inside." He says the gates must be periodically tested to make sure they open both directions - to allow evacuees out and emergency crews in.
There’s an exception, though, in Deschutes River Woods, where the county owns and maintains a gate at the third access road for that community, "In order for us to open those, we need to follow protocol, which means notifying the railroad. We need the trains to stop. We’re able to unlock those and open them up and get people out of there." Derlacki says if you're concerned an emergency gate isn't functioning properly, talk to the property owner, which could be a homeowner or neighborhood association. If they are not responsive, contact the fire department.
It’s important to know your closest evacuation route in advance, and whether your best way out of a community is through a locked gate. Although, Derlacki says, typically, how you got in is your best way out. And, he says, don’t wait until the last minute to leave, "If you’re getting a Level Two evacuation, which is that ‘be ready to go,’ plan on leaving. And not waiting until it’s at Level Three, so you don’t have to worry about that emergency gate, traffic is starting to back up; it’s starting to get heavy. That can be some of the most dangerous times."
If you’re forced to leave your home, Derlacki suggests checking in at an evacuation shelter, even if you don’t plan to stay, "Right now, one of the complications in Hawaii is no communications. Cell phones, regular phones are all down, so they can’t account for everybody. One of the ways they can account is people show up at shelters and say, ‘hey, this is my name, here’s my address, my whole family got out; we’re staying here.’ Now, when they’re looking through records it’s like, ‘now we know where this family is, this address. We can account for them.’"