DeRidder mayor: Wildfire communication updates smoother now

Concerns over how the city of DeRidder communicated with its residents over the weekend were discussed at Monday’s City Council meeting.

A resident spoke to the council on these concerns, stating many residents felt confused and panicked when the DeRidder nursing homes were evacuated on Saturday. She said they received a phone update one and a half hours after the nursing homes were evacuated, and that during that time many felt in the dark. A power outage that was unrelated to the Tiger Island Fire exacerbated the situation.

In a community news update given on the city’s website on Saturday, it was stated the evacuations were a precaution due to the Tiger Island Fire’s “unpredictability and its fast-moving nature.”

DeRidder Mayor Misty Clanton said the nursing homes did not begin evacuating until after the public notification went out.

“When the National Weather Service made their weather briefing and the westward winds were scheduled to come to DeRidder, I immediately ordered an evacuation for the nursing homes.”

The city has been posting regular updates and sharing parish and state posts on their official Facebook page. Updates have also been posted to their website, sent through text alerts and iCall services.

“We have tried to do everything that we can do.”

The woman addressing the council said residents who don’t use social media were left out of the loop, especially senior citizens.

Clanton said the city has also been sending information to surrounding TV and radio news stations in an attempt to make information more accessible.

“Anything that’s happening, and any sort of media source, is the media’s job … we’ve relied on them to do so.”

She also explained she has worked to communicate, coordinate and work with every organization and municipality involved with the Tiger Island Fire firefighting efforts.

“I haven’t missed a beat.”

They both agreed that communication became smoother when the Southern Area Red Type Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry earlier this week.

“We were not given any sort of authority … the state forestry firefighting group came in here, they were in charge, and we put our trust in that they were doing the right thing.”

Clanton said when it came to the direct safety of DeRidder, she did not have trust in those in charge. She explained she was in direct contact with local firefighting departments to make sure the fire was not approaching DeRidder.

“Like you, and many others, I didn’t trust what was happening … So, when the U.S. Forestry department came in and took command at seven o’clock yesterday morning of the state forestry department, it did change, and I do believe that we are moving in the right direction.”

Vincent Labue, councilman at large, said the city will learn from this experience.

“When this crisis is over, just like after the hurricane, the mayor will get with all her department heads. We did some good things, and there are some things we’re going to learn from, just like any crisis. We’re going to learn from this.”

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