>An escape route that leads residents to the Post-Paulina Highway via an unimproved road has been designated
As hot and dry summer weather takes hold in Crook County, fire safety concerns have again returned to the forefront.
Among those concerns for Juniper Canyon-area residents is what evacuation options they have available in the event of a major wildfire. One person recently expressed such concerns in the comment section of a Central Oregonian online article.
“We were promised an ‘escape route’ to the State Park (Prineville Reservoir) and over to the (Bowman) Dam,” the commenter, later_Peter, stated. “We are promised this every time there is an election, and yet a major fire near the bottom of the hill traps half the Prineville population.”
As it turns out, an escape route has been designated for people living in Juniper Canyon if a wildfire takes over the area. Crook County Judge Mike McCabe explained that the route follows Juniper Canyon Road to Prineville Reservoir. From there, people travel north on a dirt road that ultimately leads to the Post-Paulina Highway.
McCabe acknowledged that the path isn’t optimal for regular travel, but would lead people to safety if needed.
“It’s not the best all-season road,” he said, “but it is sure enough an escape route.”
Crook County officials have considered construction of an improved route throughout the past few years, but encountered too many hurdles to justify the effort.
For example, such a route would require passage through Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation land. To receive such access, the County would have to complete a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) study or other impact assessments that sometimes take several years to complete.
Furthermore, a new route comes with a high price tag.
“It is very spendy to do,” McCabe said. “We spent a lot of money (several thousand dollars) with (Crook County Surveyor Dave) Armstrong trying to survey an alternate route out of there on a couple different occasions.”
Crook County Fire and Rescue Chief Matt Smith said he has heard concerns about an escape route from time to time, but he believes it is more important to focus on matters closer to their own home.
“The very first step is the wildland fire prevention,” he said. “We offer to come out to people’s homes and do an assessment and help them decide what things they can do to help protect their home.”
Such preventative measures include trimming low tree branches, clearing the ground near the home of fire fuels like cheat grass and other dry vegetation, and ensuring the house has fire resistant roofing.
“All over our district, we go out and occasionally do door-to-door where we hand out fire prevention materials,” Smith said. “That’s where we get the most interest. It’s not all that common that people come in, but if they do, we will certainly go and take care of whatever questions they have.”
As far as escape routes go, Smith contends that people should first know how to get out of their own subdivision. He noted that the newer subdivisions in Juniper Canyon were built with secondary egresses to provide people a way out in the event of a wildfire.
“Knowing what those are is far more important than knowing how to get out of Juniper Canyon.”
Smith said that a scenario requiring the evacuation of the Juniper Canyon area is not all that likely, but if such a situation should arise, residents will have plenty of help finding safety.
“We are going to have the law enforcement and fire community set up a command post, speak as one voice, and tell people where they should go,” he stressed. “We have a reservoir down there. We have great areas where they can congregate, where we could evacuate people to.”