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First-Person Account from Marek Fire Questions Evacuation Procedures

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An article posted today on RonKaye.com by Glenn Bell gives a firsthand account of the events of last Monday morning when a wildfire raged in the hills above Kagel and Lopez Canyons and near his home in the Blue Star mobile home community.

It was, according to Bell, "not a normal morning," due to the fire, and, moreover, this fire seemed different from others he'd experienced in the past. Bell describes the unusual scene:

I started hearing explosions, I don't remember how many, but there were more than a dozen. So I went out to an area in front of my house to have a clear view of the hill above us. My neighbor and I watched as the truck diesel tanks exploded. As they exploded, the winds, blowing roughly 65 miles an hour, would blow the burning fuel down the hill towards our community.
Not long after the explosions came the only notice to evacuate the area that Bell and his neighbors received:
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At that same time a police vehicle was traveling at a fast pace through our mobile home park, an officer was screaming into his PA system, GET OUT, GET OUT NOW, THIS IS AN IMMEDIATE AND MANDATORY EVACUATION! Just like that, he was gone. The evacuation notice was simply a "drive-by" shout into a loudspeaker. There was no assistance offered for an orderly evacuation.

Bell estimates that the 189 homes in the park each have 2-3 vehicles belonging to residents, meaning that if everyone were to act immediately, "at least 415 vehicles that had exactly 5 minutes to escape from one exit." And, although it was indeed an emergency, "the operators of this mobile home park refused to open the emergency exit" leaving the residents "'log-jammed' getting out of the park" as "fire was raining down on them." Through choking smoke and haze the residents--many of them elderly--had to make their way out of the exit one by one and without any assistance.

Bell says that when he did make it out, the emergency personnel he encountered "did not know where the evacuation center was." In fact, as Bell followed his instincts and went to the local McDonald's in hopes of being reunited with his wife, "it was the manager [there] who told [Bell's] wife where the evacuation center was."

This account of the evacuation raises a lot of questions about the ways in which emergencies are handled, on a smaller scale such as for mobile home communities to the larger scale of entire neighborhoods and cities. It may be a good time, in light of the recent fires, and the omnipresent threat of a major and devastating earthquake, to determine what the course of action will be when you need to evacuate, and if your building management, workplace, or community, has a plan in place. Bell would agree, citing his own experience and frustration with the people in charge of the Blue Star mobile home park. His article concludes:

Now, how do we reconcile the inaction of this park owner and management? Their reckless behavior endangered my wife's life and the lives of countless others. What was their emergency evacuation plan? In all the years I have lived here, no one has ever prepared an evacuation plan for any of the tenants. There are going to be people interested in this situation. And we will go forward with it.

Photo of a helicopter dropping water on the Marek Wildfire by Jonathan Alcorn/Sundogg via LAist Featured Photos Pool on Flickr