Q1: What is the City's evacuation plan? A: A study was underway well before the Almeda Fire to analyze estimated evacuation times. The City has received the results and they are published on the City’s website. The study results were used to update the City’s evacuation map using a zone-based approach and to educate the public.
Q2: Could there be areas within town identified to shelter in place like parking lots or non-flammable areas without evacuating town completely? A: While there are some large capacity lots in Ashland, the answer to this question will vary depending on a fire’s location, wind direction, and pattern of movement. A shelter would be disqualified, for example, if there’s choking smoke or falling embers. It's preferred to get people away from town as a first option.
Q3: How and when will the evacuation study be communicated to public? A: The evacuation study was presented to the City Council on June 1, 2021. Citizens can read the technical report as well as a summary here. City staff have created a multi-faceted and effective informational campaign to communicate the most important information about evacuation. June is the dedicated month for evacuation awareness and an information push is underway and will evolve as needed through the summer.
Q4: Can the City revisit the North Mountain & Nevada Street I-5 connection for either full or emergency use? A: This option was evaluated in the evacuation traffic study and due to the limited traffic capacity on N. Mountain Ave, the time savings was only 10 minutes in a full city evacuation scenario with an overall time estimate of 4 hours, though for residents living in the North Mountain neighborhood, the time savings can be significant. UPDATE: As of Summer 2022, the North Mountain emergency on-ramp is fully functional!
Q5: Why was I-5 closed and traffic redirected through Ashland during the Almeda Fire? Will the City’s evacuation plan avoid this in future? A: I-5 was initially closed at exit 14, as requested by the Oregon Department of Transportation and Emergency Services who were responding to fire activities along the I-5 corridor around exit 19 and Highway 99 near Valley View. The interstate needed to be closed to keep vehicular traffic from entering the fire zone. The closure was then moved to exit 1, and eventually into California at Yreka. The vehicular traffic at the time of initial closure on the interstate between Exit 1 and Exit 14 needed an outlet and associated detour. Staff had been assigned to ongoing evacuations, so there was a delay in getting appropriate staff to the intersection of Tolman Creek and Ashland Street, where southbound interstate traffic was to be routed to I-5 at milepost 11. That, in combination with Highway 99 being closed, caused temporary congestion on Ashland’s main arterial roadways. ODOTs intent is to never close the interstate in a manner that re-routes traffic through downtown Ashland, but due to the speed of the event and the lack of resources at the time, congestion was unavoidable. City staff, ODOT, emergency services and other regional partners will continue to work together to improve evacuation efficiencies for all communities in the region.
Q6: What effect did the road diet have on the evacuation? How can it be better utilized to prevent traffic jams? A: The vehicular flow of emergency services from Ashland to Talent and Phoenix was routed through the North Main Street corridor, where its median refuge lane allowed emergency vehicles to bypass vehicles in the travel lanes. The corridor is still the same width as it was prior to the three-lane conversion and that total width can be used to facilitate evacuations northbound. The same configuration exists in Phoenix and was used by ODOT during the Almeda Fire to evacuate community members north, using the full width of the roadway. The City, ODOT, emergency services and regional partners will continue to work together to improve evacuation efficiencies for all communities in the region, on all major highways and corridors.
The 2021 evacuation study looked at a scenario involving conversion of a single lane west out of town into two lanes and found a savings of 20 minutes in overall estimated evacuation time.
Q7: Have the Mayor and Council posted online what changes to wildfire safety planning have been made in light of surveys and studies of the Almeda fire? A: Council will consider all post-fire information when creating future policy on wildfire safety and prevention. A study session was held on Monday, March 15, 2020 for discussion of Oregon’s Residential Structural Specialty Code (ORSC) 327.4 relating to local adoption of wildfire hazard mitigation building codes. Also, the evacuation study and details from Jackson County’s Emergency Operations Center after-action review was presented to Council beginning June 1, 2021 with the results of Ashland's study. The Council will carefully consider the need for staffing and program implementation resources for wildfire adaptation and prevention measures that help keep Ashland residents safe. The City’s Fire Adapted Communities provides robust information about how to prepare for wildfire at fireadaptedashland.org.
Q8: Where can Ashland residents view the City of Ashland evacuation plan? A: Ashland’s evacuation information is posted on www.ashland.or.us/evacuate including what citizens need to know to get information, prepare, and evacuate via a variety of routes if called to do so.
Q11: What should I expect in an evacuation? A: You may have hours to evacuate or only minutes to flee. Under any circumstances, you will first receive a text or call from the City via Nixle informing you of any evacuation orders. Evacuation orders will specify which zones are affected; it may be only one zone, it could be for all zones. If the evacuation order states that the affected zone(s) are now at Level 3, or Go!, you must evacuate immediately. You will not have time to second-guess what you decided to include in your “GO” kit. You should expect traffic to be heavy on exit routes in any evacuation scenario, especially any situation where a fire starts close to town. If at any point you feel unsafe, you can self evacuate whether or not you've received a Nixle alert.