Officials explain how evacuations would work if there was a fire in the West Hills

Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman Lt. Rich Chatman says the dense forest in Forest Park can be a big fire threat, especially in dry and gusty conditions. (KATU Photo)

As wildfires rage on in California, officials in Portland say we have a big threat in the middle of town, but have several tools to deliver evacuation notices quickly.

Forest Park is one of the biggest threats in town, according to Lt. Rich Chatman, a Portland Fire and Rescue spokesperson. At more than 5,000 acres, it’s one of the largest forested parks in a city in the country.

“We've identified that as being a major threat and something we prepare for constantly, and we encourage people to have preparation for possible evacuation,” said Chatman.

With homes in the West Hills and so close to Forest Park, a large fire there would likely prompt evacuations.

In Oregon, there are three levels.

-Level one: Be ready
-Level two: Be set
-Level three: Go

Back in March, a scrap yard caught fire in Northeast Portland. Firefighters went door-to-door there telling residents to leave.

“There wasn't much conversation. Just, ‘It's time to evacuate, you got to go,’” said Maria McDowell, who was evacuated in that fire.

Officials say going door-to-door is just one way they will tell you about an evacuation.

Dan Douthit, a spokesperson for Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management, says how they tell people about evacuations largely depends on the nature of the fire and how fast it’s moving.

“The key is to get safety information to the public as quickly as possible, so that people can get out of harm’s way,” he said.

If there is imminent danger, Douthit says they may use the Emergency Alert System to alert people on their TV or radio. The National Weather Service often uses these to warn residents of a storm.

Officials also may choose to use Wireless Emergency Alerts. The Federal Emergency Management Administration tested this system in October. It delivers a message to your phone. Douthit says this could be a useful tool to reach a specific area.

“It's something we'd definitely use in Portland if we need to because of a major evacuation,” Douthit said.

Within the next year, officials say the wireless system will become even more effective.

“What we're trying to achieve at some point is the ability to just pick a small area, basically create a geofence, and just alert those phones,” said Chatman.

Douthit also recommends people in the Portland area to sign up for public alerts if there is an emergency. You can connect a landline, email address, and cellphone.

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