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Keep up with the latest news about wildfires in Utah.

If Fire Evacuation Orders Are Given, Are You Ready To Go?

A photo of people evacuating a house.
Sonja Hutson
Noelle Skilton loads up her car to evacuate her home in Timberline — but not enough Utahns are prepared for fire evacuations.

On Aug. 14, thousands of residents were told to evacuate their homes in Summit County due to the Parleys Canyon Fire. Officials gave the ordersfor the Summit Park, Pine Brook, Lambs Canyon & Millcreek communities, which make up between 6,000 to 8,000 homes.

As extreme drought conditions in Utah raise wildfire concerns, officials are looking ahead at emergency preparedness.

Mike McComb, emergency manager for Park City, said in the last year they created a subcommittee with various state organizations for these types of events. It focuses on a citywide evacuation plan.

“You can’t really plan for every circumstance whether that be the season, time or the nature of the fire, etc.,” McComb said. “All that said, I do feel pretty confident that we'd be able to get people out.”

He said they had been planning for a possible emergency evacuation exercise for the upcoming year when the Parleys Canyon Fire occurred.

He said the partnership between local and state officials are pivotal to ensuring people get to safety and so emergency personnel can manage exit routes.

McComb said there are methods of evacuation that can help stagger the traffic jams that would occur normally in places like Park City.

That could mean evacuating them vertically,” he said, “so down the mountain, for example, if the threat were higher up or away [then] horizontally out of town. We want to try and minimize the number of people that we evacuate at any given time and minimize the amount of distance that they have to travel.”

An effective evacuation, according to McComb, is one where everyone gets out alive.

“That's always the standard, preservation of life and health, safety, property preservation and then stabilizing the incident itself,” he said. “Those are always the top the top priorities for that, for public safety.” 

How Prepare To Evacuate

Julie Murphy, wildfire risk reduction coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands, said not enough Utanns are prepared for these types of situations.

“Fires are just going to get more extreme and more frequent,” Murphy said. “So we need to be ready. There’s not enough preparation that you can do to be ready to leave in a moment's notice.”

In instances where people have to evacuate their homes, she said it’s important to look ahead and plan routes of escape. She said having a safety plan in place with family members can help ease the chaos in those moments.

Murphy said packing a 72-hour emergency bag is very helpful so people can quickly grab their things and go. “You’ll want a three-day supply of water, nonperishable food, first aid kits, flashlights [and] batteries,” she said.

That would also give people time to gather other belongings — like the five P’s: people, pets, pills, photos and important papers.

Murphy pointed to state resources that can better equip people for these situations like Be Ready Utah.

This could happen and it will happen. So we need to be ready and be prepared and know that it's all going to be alright,” she said.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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