Some in Wildfires’ Path Never Got Evacuation Alerts in Oregon

Ms. Martin helped her mother pack a car with china and heirloom quilts. They opened the gates in the hope that the cattle could escape approaching flames. Shortly after leaving, Ms. Martin realized that her father was not following as promised, so she slammed her Mini Cooper into reverse on a traffic-packed road and raced backward on the highway shoulder to return to the family farm and retrieve him.

The family made its way to Ms. Martin’s home, but as night fell, they worried that they would have to evacuate from there, too. Several family members slept on the floor of the living room, waiting to go if needed, but Ms. Martin and her mother sat up all night, watching the glow in the distance and gluing themselves to updates from Ms. Martin’s son, a data analyst in Los Angeles who was listening to police scanners on a Facebook Live feed. Ms. Martin never received an alert on her phone from the county, but to her relief, the fire did not reach her Ashland home.

In the days that followed, Ms. Martin, who is running as a Democrat for Jackson County commissioner in the November election, has led a growing call from residents who are questioning why the county did not use its Emergency Alert System. “I was furious that I had no way to find information,” she said. “They’re just incredibly lucky they only lost three people.”

She has collected stories from other angry residents on social media. A few said they had received some sort of alert from county officials as the fires spread, but dozens of people reported no alerts of any kind.

“We found out about the fire by looking outside,” one woman wrote. Others said their best source of evacuation data had been Facebook. “We just need a plan,” another woman wrote. “We need a better plan.”

Ms. Alicia’s father was fortunate: He and his house survived, though the neighborhood across the street from him burned. Ms. Alicia said many of her neighbors and members of her extended family had reported no alerts and said that they had been unwilling to evacuate without official word from the government. Even the YouTube stream she watched, which she said had helped her navigate evacuations, was difficult to understand because it was in English, so she had switched to a Facebook stream that was repeating some of its key recommendations in Spanish.

Many residents said they felt lucky to have escaped in the chaos. A dump of flame retardant on adjoining railroad tracks saved Ms. Martin’s parents’ farm. All they lost was their family business of 49 years, a Harley-Davidson dealership in Phoenix, which was insured.


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