Friday afternoon’s smoke was a blast from the past, reminiscent of an August day in 2016 when thick smoke suddenly engulfed Teton Valley too. We did not have the benefit of air quality monitors back then, but it seems to me the smoke that day was even thicker than what we saw on Friday. And that smoke was not blowing in from distant fires, it was from the Tie Canyon fire, alarmingly close to Teton Valley and growing toward Victor.
This week, we are looking back to that event to remind ourselves of the lessons we learned. When emergencies happen, they unfold quickly and the situation changes by the minute. Slow and steady isn’t a term any emergency ever heard of. Neither is solo. The fire emergency in 2016 was potentially complicated by an earthquake, although thankfully a small one. There are some good lessons to review by looking back at the events of 2016:
August 27, 2016. The Tie Canyon fire had been slow the last couple of days, but the wind was forecast to gust up from the west in the afternoon. As that afternoon wind increased, near Hoback in Wyoming there was an earthquake. True story with a happy ending. Our amazing firefighters from Great Basin Team 5 had put down barriers which successfully held the fire from progressing toward Victor. In addition, the earthquake was magnitude 4.8, a light quake. It was felt throughout Teton Valley but no damage was reported. It was a good day.
Saturday is also a good reason to stop and think what might have happened. Not to scare, but because playing the “what if” game in your mind can make you more ready to take action should a number of things go bad at once. When situations turn really dicey, it's usually not just one thing that's gone wrong, but a combination. What if Saturday had gone differently?
Suppose that the wind had picked up more than forecast and pushed the fire toward Victor. And suppose that at the same time, the earthquake had been much stronger and much closer to Teton Valley. Well planned and prepared evacuations would have begun just as the earthquake damaged the roads and bridges making evacuations as planned impossible. Families would be separated. Shelters would have been set up by the Red Cross in Driggs and Alta for the Victor evacuees, but how could they get there with, say, Yellow Bridge gone or Highway 33 buckled and impassable? Are alternate routes available? Do the drivers on the roads in front of you know them? Do you know them? Can those routes handle the traffic? Were they damaged, too? And what about the fire; is it going to stop at the predesignated evacuation zone or go beyond, further clogging the blocked roads with frightened residents?
This past week was a great drill if it prompted us to make individual and family disaster plans. Where will your family meet up? Do you each have a go bag, jump bag, or 72 hour kit packed with the essentials you'll need away from home a while? Have you thought about what you would grab if you could only take an armload of items with you from your home? Can you easily get from point A to point B by more than one route? Does each family member know how to contact the one person, preferably outside of the valley, who will be your central information point?
Did you know that detailed suggestions for this kind of plan have been made by Teton County Emergency Management? It has been tailored to Teton Valley and the kinds of disasters we are most likely to face here. Part one of this guide can be found at:
Part two is available at: http://www.tetoncountyidaho.gov/pdf/additionalInfo/TETON_IndividualPreparednessPlan_PART_II.pdf
These guides are meticulously detailed and will take more than a quick glance by everyone in the family for them to be effective. Make the time now, because as the guide says, when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.
And one more thing this week showed, the value of the CodeRED emergency alert system. Should an emergency occur near you, with CodeRED you will be notified by phone, and if you choose, on your smart phone using the app. If you have a land line phone in Teton Valley, you are already enrolled and will get a call should something important come up. If you have a cell phone, you will have to go on line and register with CodeRED to receive notifications on it. You can do that at:
Either way, you will receive word of impending situations faster by phone than if you have to wait for an officer to knock on your door.