During a recent meeting, Estacada elected officials and city staff expressed concern about the efficacy of the communication process as citizens needed to evacuate amid the Riverside and Dowty Road fires.
In a city council meeting on Monday, Sept. 21, Mayor Sean Drinkwine said he had been in a tactical meeting during the heart of the wildfires, when leaders from the Oregon Department of Forestry, the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Police were discussing potential evacuations.
"ODF, who was in charge of calling an evacuation, in the middle of the meeting turned to me and says, 'Mayor Drinkwine, you are going to an evac three. You need to get your people out of there,'" Drinkwine said.
He noted that he passed that message to city staff, which he said was then "semi ignored."
"I don't mean to be mean in the way I put that," he added. "I notified (city staff) that we're in an evac three. That's the last I heard of it until the county came out and said it's an evac three, which was three hours later."
Estacada City Manager Denise Carey said staff were receiving conflicting information about the wildfires, which was why the level three evacuation notice was not immediately posted.
"Everyone was giving us information, and it wasn't all the same," she said. "It needs to be more clear who we're supposed to be looking at during these emergencies, so we need to look at our whole emergency system. I agree with the mayor. . .it didn't work this time."
City Council President Katy Dunsmuir pointed out that a message conflicting Drinkwine's update was posted to the city's Facebook page.
"I think part of what Mayor Drinkwine is saying is that even his own efforts to initiate an evacuation was undermined by the city staff," she said.
Assistant City Manager Melanie Wagner explained that she posted the update in question based on information from Clackamas County.
"I double checked the (county evacuation) map, which is where the information was coming from, and as far as I knew for the evacuations at that time, we were still at level two," she said.
Wagner added that the Sept. 10 Facebook post stating that firefighters had left Estacada — which was incorrect — was based on information from the county. During that time, firefighters remained in the city and took a tactical pause to determine the best way to contain the flames.
"It was a very distressing message to receive, knowing that there were still people in town that weren't the professional firefighters who had radios connected saying, 'Hey, you guys need to pull back,'" she said, apologizing for the concern it caused. "We were told at the time they were leaving Estacada which turned out not to be accurate ... If the fire had behaved in the way they were concerned it was going to, I'm afraid that all the volunteers out there who were trying to fight the fire would not have fared very well. It was a kind of a dire situation that afternoon, not knowing how the fire was going to behave."
Councilor Kimberlee Ables described communication as "one of our key takeaways from this."
"We need to make sure that whoever is the person that's posting to social media is (Mayor Drinkwine's) direct contact," she said. "I think there's a whole bunch of different ways we could have leveraged our communications channels and things that we should look at after the fact."
Drinkwine reiterated that "this is not not a blame game."
"This is a broken system," he said. "I want to try to fix it. I don't want to blame anybody. I don't want to make it anybody's issue, but I want us to get it right next time — if there is a next time, which I hope there never is."
In other news from the council meeting
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