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Mandatory Evacuations, Tri-Community Differs in Opinions on whether or not to Evacuate

A+picture+of+the+the+smoke+produced+when+the+fire+was+burning+taken+by+Sunnyslope+and+Sheep+Creek+Roads+on+the+16th+of+August+%28Sarah+Nolt-Caraway%29.
A picture of the the smoke produced when the fire was burning taken by Sunnyslope and Sheep Creek Roads on the 16th of August (Sarah Nolt-Caraway).

A picture of the the smoke produced when the fire was burning taken by Sunnyslope and Sheep Creek Roads on the 16th of August (Sarah Nolt-Caraway).

A picture of the the smoke produced when the fire was burning taken by Sunnyslope and Sheep Creek Roads on the 16th of August (Sarah Nolt-Caraway).

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  Last August as the Blue Cut Fire quickly spread from the 15 corridor in the Cajon Pass to West Cajon Valley and Oak Hills, state firefighting agencies declared mandatory evacuations for Lytle Creek, Wrightwood, Oak Hills, West Cajon Valley, and several other localities at risk from the fire.

 The Blue Cut started Tuesday, August 16th at 10:36 a.m. The fire grew to 36,000 acres with over 900 personnel working on the fire. By August 23rd, the fire was completely contained. Many homes and structures were destroyed due to the fire.

 Principal Dan Andrus, having been in multiple fires throughout his life, says, “ it was the worst fire [he] has ever seen,” and from what he heard from fire-fighters it was the “hardest to fight” as well as a “different experience and different nature of the fire.”

 Sergeant Jeffrey Toll even said that law enforcement and fire crew “have never seen a fire move that fast” and from what he heard the fire “was moving in a lot of different directions.”

 Due to the unpredictability of the fire, the perimeter was very large. According to Sergeant Toll, “the boundaries were changed by the minute so, a large perimeter was necessary” to protect the communities affected by the fire.

 Besides the fire’s damage to property and the community’s sense of safety, the Blue Cut fire also split the community as residents argued over their varied responses to the evacuation orders.

 Many people in the tri-community have varying opinions on why they did or did not evacuate during this fire. As citizens shared their views on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, arguments erupted between members of the community.

 There has been some confusion over the reasons for evacuation orders and their legal force.

 Sergeant Toll from the Phelan Station described a mandatory evacuation as a way to “notify people that they are in the way of imminent danger.”  Both law enforcement and firefighters use this, according to Toll, “to ask people to leave” due to the danger they are being put in by the fire.

 According to Robert Chacon, Director of Risk Management for the Snowline School District, “The reason why emergency personnel request residents to evacuate, is so that they may concentrate their efforts and resources on protecting property and environment, with the understanding that ‘life’ has been evacuated from the area.”

 Principal Andrus brought to attention that there is a California Penal Code for mandatory evacuations.Under the Penal Code 409.5, the law authorizes officers to restrict access to any area where a menace to public health or safety exists due to a calamity such as a fire  or any other natural disaster. Refusal to comply is a misdemeanor and can result up to six months of jail time.

 According to Mr. Andrus, the Penal Code was not adhered to because “law enforcement did not notify everyone” and did not set up “proper barriers” around the evacuation zones.

 Chuck Carroll, President of the Wrightwood Fire Safe Council, claims that law enforcement “called people, came to resident homes, and [went up and down] streets with loudspeakers” to notify residents of the evacuation orders. He added that, “people knew that there were evacuation orders.” Chuck Carroll claims that residents were not arrested because “law enforcement can’t leave the area,” the jails are too far away, and “too many people didn’t evacuate” for it to be effective.

 Sergeant Toll affirmed that the Penal Code applies to the people of the community and “can definitely be enforced if they were in the way.”

 Many families immediately followed the evacuation orders.

 Serrano student Emily Smith (12) did evacuate the very first day evacuations were put in place. She evacuated “for [her] dogs because it was very smokey,” and she felt unsafe since she was “home alone at the time of the fire.”

  Another Serrano Student, Nicholas Martinez (12), evacuated with his family. His philosophy was that “if the fire came close to [his] house, the firemen could focus on the fire not [his safety].”

 Many residents affected by the evacuation orders are employees in the Snowline school district and have families with children. Serrano High School economics and government teacher Joshua Sullivan, and Snowline School District’s Superintendent Ryan Holman both evacuated for to protect their families.

 Mr. Sullivan has small children and he “didn’t want [his] kids to suffer from smoke inhalation or put [his] kids under stress” while the fire was burning. His family decided to make a family trip.

 Dr. Holman has a family of five and his family decided to evacuate Tuesday night. His philosophy is keeping his “family safe, and following and supporting the directions of the local fire and law enforcement agencies.” Law enforcement and firefighters “should probably make that decision because [he] is not an expert.”

 Ultimately, Dr. Holman did end up staying behind to make decisions regarding the school with law enforcement.

 Other residents and families disregarded the orders and remained in evacuated orders. As news about these residents spread on social media, tempers flared.

 On Facebook, there is a page for Wrightwood that has had many people expressing their opinions about the evacuations. One Wrightwood group member, Alyssa Titus, expressed that “if Wrightwood were to actually catch fire you are not only endangering your lives but the firefighters lives… instead of protecting this beautiful town, they will have to worry about protecting and saving people whom were asked to leave.”

 Serrano student, Iraj Aamer (12) did not evacuate during this fire. His family felt they “were not in danger” and “evacuating would be unnecessary because [they] were not even within five miles” of the fire.

 Assistant Principal Lisa Hansen did not immediately evacuate because law enforcement and firefighters “did not have a great plan” for evacuations in Wrightwood. Hansen stated it was very “hard to come back” to her community after leaving.

 Mr. Andrus wanted to “watch and wait to see if the danger merited [an evacuation].” According to Mr. Andrus, his property is surrounded by “horse stables that are very clear of brush” that protected his house from the main fire and any spot fires. Mr. Andrus believes that “evacuating is a very emotional decision; it is hard to get people to leave their homes.”

 Serrano biology teacher Mrs. Julie Gallagher did not evacuate, but she stated that she was “all packed and ready to go if the wind shifted” the fire towards her house. She added that she chose not to evacuate because “there were multiple ways out,” and she was “not ready to leave” her house.

 

A picture of the aftermath of the fire damage above Snowline Road, in Phelan in late September (Mary White).

A picture of the aftermath of the fire damage above Snowline Road, in Phelan in late September (Mary White).

According to Mrs. Gallagher, many people on her road “communicated with each other,” giving each other information about the fire including those who left, “keeping track of houses… [and] protecting houses from looters.”

 Another member of the Facebook Wrightwood community page, Megan Crowell, stresses that “the people [who stayed behind] pull[ed] together and help[ed] the firemen and cops… the people are feeding them for free.” Some people who stayed were a benefit to the people fighting the fires and protecting the community.

 In an August article in LA Times writers Louis Sahagun, Ruben Vines, and Joe Mozingo conducted an interview with Wrightwood resident Angela Adams on why she didn’t evacuate. Angela’s reasoning for not evacuating is pretty unique and emotional. In her house are items from her 17 year-old son, Dillon, who recently passed away from a car accident. In the article, she stated she “just needed more time to pack,” and just “has to have his stuff.”

 A number of residents who volunteer for community emergency response organizations voiced their concerns about the problem with ignoring evacuation orders.

 Bonnie Ross, Director of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), stated that she has worked “closely with the Fire Department and [has] been told to leave when a mandatory evacuation is ordered.” She believes that people who do not leave “put the firefighter, themselves, and the community at risk.”

 Carroll believed that people who didn’t evacuate “made it unsafe [and] got in the way of law enforcement.” He added that people “need to be prepared to leave” when they are ordered to evacuate.

 The Wrightwood Fire Safe Council endorses the “ready, set, go” philosophy. People need to be ready to leave when it is necessary. Carroll elaborates that people “need to have their necessities in an area close together,” like medicine. People should have a set of clothes ready to take in case there is extreme damage. This philosophy helps people get out of danger fast and without interfering with firemen and other personnel.

  Sergeant Toll said that not evacuating “can create problems because it can render first aid and put a strain on resources.” He added that, people who need assistance “should leave immediately” because it would be very “dangerous for them to stay if the fire got out of control,” and very hard to save their lives.

 Snowline emergency response coordinator Mr. Chacon emphasized that “these agencies are the experts in the field of emergency management, and they have resources and minute to minute updates on the fire behavior and immediate threat. Just because the fire looks far from your home, doesn’t mean it really is.”

 The general consensus was both the community and fire personnel handled the evacuations the best they could.

 Dr. Holman felt “firefighters and law agencies were great.” He added that they “kept in contact with the communities” and gave constant updates when they could.

 Chuck Carroll said the fire personnel did a “superb job, but” the people who stayed behind, “if the didn’t have purpose, could have caused a huge problem for everyone.”

 Regarding fire and law agencies, Mrs. Gallagher believed they “did a great job because they constantly checked on [her part of the community] that was close to the fire.” She added that law enforcement officers “checked the houses to make sure people actually lived in those houses.”

Mrs. Gallagher thought that the communities “were united as one.”

 Mr. Andrus believed law enforcement did a “great job notifying people about the fire,” and the firefighters “did a tremendous job” on protecting the communities.

 Mrs. Hansen thought both law and fire agencies “were impressive with the decisions made for protection” but, felt “this evacuation wasn’t handled as well compared to others.” She added that in the LA County part of Wrightwood, which is farther away from the fire than her house, “was evacuated before [her] family was.” She concluded that overall “plan for evacuations wasn’t great.”

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Mandatory Evacuations, Tri-Community Differs in Opinions on whether or not to Evacuate