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Emergency Broadcast Alerts Never Issued For Almeda Fire

Jackson County Nathan Sickler speaks at a press conference regarding the Almeda Fire.
April Ehrlich
JPR News
Jackson County Nathan Sickler speaks at a press conference regarding the Almeda Fire.

When the Almeda Fire tore through the towns of Talent and Phoenix last week, Jackson County officials didn’t issue an emergency broadcast alert.

These alerts interrupt broadcasts on local TV and radio stations to deliver crucial information to people during a disaster, like a wildfire.

The county instead relied on an opt-in alert system called Everbridge to deliver messages to people’s phones. But many residents say they never got evacuation notices from that either.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, emergency center director John Vial said it’s too soon to say what went wrong.

"When things have calmed down to a level that we could truly understand what happened, the county will be conducting a thorough debrief on these systems, evaluating the pros and cons of each, and evaluating our performance and how we did, and changes will be made if necessary,” Vial told reporters.

Sheriff Nathan Sickler said a county-wide alert could have caused too many people to evacuate at the same time.

“If those roads were blocked any more, we can’t say what would have occurred but it could have been tragic,” Sickler said. “We had a hard enough time clearing out the roads as it was.”

Most people who didn’t evacuate in time ended up having law enforcement or firefighters banging on their doors, giving them just minutes to flee the fast-moving flames.

The Almeda Fire destroyed more than 2,300 structures in Talent and Phoenix. County officials say they’re still assessing how many housing units were in each structure.

Much of Talent and Phoenix remain closed, including Oregon Highway 99, because of safety hazards.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.