Volunteers met in Helena on June 18,2016 for reenactment of an event known as ‘One-Third Mile To Safety’, based on a true story of how wildfire changed the lives of one California family.
The ‘takeaways’ from the event were:
(1) The importance of what is known as ‘situational awareness’ (i.e. knowing what’s going on with a fire at all times) cannot be overemphasized;
(2) Evacuate early to avoid becoming ‘trapped’ by a wildfire and
(3) Don’t wait to be told to evacuate if you feel at risk or in danger.
One-Third Mile to Safety: A Family’s Story
Learn to Plan for Emergency Situations and Evacuations
This story began in 2003 with a human-caused wildfire in southern California that burned more than 280,000 acres and 2,232 homes, but most importantly and tragically, led to the untimely death of a bright, young woman named Ashleigh Roach. Ashleigh’s sister, Alyson Roach, survived the event but was severely burned.
On June 18, 2016, Helena residents learned how wildfire touched the lives of this California family through reenactment of an event known as “One-Third Mile to Safety: A Family’s Story” staff ride, which was conducted at the Neighborhood Assembly of God Church (725 Granite Ave.) in Helena.
The “One-Third Mile to Safety” event is based on a real life wildfire experience involving the Roach family, which lived one-third of a mile from their local volunteer fire department, yet not all of their family members were able to safely evacuate their home. Sadly, Ashleigh Roach, age 16, was killed in the fire during the family’s evacuation.
Participants in the reenactment took a guided, 1/3-mile walk along Le Grande Cannon Blvd. and Silverette Street, stopping at several stations to hear the evacuation story from the perspective of the Roach family members. After the walk, Allyson Roach spoke to participants with her first-hand account of that day and advice on how people can prevent this from happening to their own families. Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Dutton also discussed local evacuation procedures, and volunteer firefighters and emergency coordinators discussed wildfire mitigation opportunities for homeowners.
“This was a very emotional day, full of powerful and inspirational messages,” said Sonny Stiger, Tri-County FireSafe Working Group representative and retired Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst. “It was not meant to be a light-hearted experience but rather to be an experience that moves our Montana neighbors into taking action: to get prepared and ready for wildfire season, each and every year; and to evacuate if or when that call is made.”
FireSafe Montana, Tri-County FireSafe Working Group, Broadwater County, Jefferson County, Lewis and Clark County, Lewis & Clark Rural Fire Council, City of Helena, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and other partners co-hosted the “One-Third Mile to Safety” staff ride to help share the Roach Family’s tragic story in hopes that Montana residents will be prepared if/when wildfire is near their home(s).
“No one can be too prepared,” Lori Roach said in a letter to Ravalli County residents in 2010, when they participated in a similar staff ride. “And what our experience demonstrates is that you have to have a plan. You have to have a back-up plan. You have to have a third plan. You have to have an all-holes, unplugged, extraordinary circumstances plan. In fire situations, my advice is if an evacuation order is given, go. Drop everything, go.”
FireSafe Montana would like to thank all of those who participated in this reenactment; and to the Roach family in general, and Alyson Roach in particular, for their courage and inspiration in surviving a horrific experience and for their willingness to share this experience as a way of helping others understand and avoid wildfire risks.
A DVD of another reenactment of the ‘One-Third Mile To Safety’ may be obtained by contacting FireSafe Montana.