Fire Sparks Pedestrian Ban
After a July 23 grass fire near the Britt Pavilion, the Jacksonville Oregon City Council is expected to take action that would limit pedestrian traffic on a section of Fir Street during Britt concerts. The street is a narrow and steep city street bordering the southernmost area of the Britt Music pavilion. It serves as a main route to patron entry gates as well as auto access to a drop-off area and auto access to Britt’s upper VIP parking lot.
Council action is intended to augment public safety measures by improving access for emergency vehicles to the venue, especially during sold-out concerts. Shortly before the Earth Wind & Fire concert on July 23, fire vehicles attempting to reach the upper reaches of the Britt grounds were obstructed by pedestrians lining Fir Street. Pedestrians included a mix of ticket holders walking from the upper parking lot down to the festival gates as well as a number of non-ticket holders gathered on Fir Street.
Britt Festivals Executive Director Donna Briggs and Jacksonville Fire Chief Devin Hull appeared together before council to address the situation. Briggs said she was immediately notified of the grass fire burning along one of the Jacksonville Woodlands trails, between Highway 238 and the upper VIP parking lot. At the time, Briggs was onstage but remained in radio contact with her security team, public safety officials and Britt staffers.
As fire crews from Jacksonville and Applegate attacked the fire, Briggs stated that she and her staff were communicating with fire officials and were prepared to evacuate the hill, if ordered to do so. Fortunately, the situation did not require evacuation but sparked an examination of pedestrian-related concerns, most notably blockage of emergency vehicles on Fir Street.
Chief Hull, who was on duty at the time the 911 call was received, told council that when he responded to the call, his Operation vehicle’s path was obstructed by pedestrians walking, mingling and sitting along the upper, hilly, stretch of Fir Street abutting the pavilion. Moments later, Jacksonville’s quick-strike brush fire truck navigated a path and reached the scene of the fire. Seconds later, when Jacksonville’s full-size fire truck rolled up, its route was temporarily blocked by pedestrians mingling in the street creating an unacceptable delay as Britt’s security team was forced to clear pedestrians out of the way.
Several council members wasted no time identifying this pedestrian group as “fence sitters,” a group that historically gathers outside the Fir Street fence line to listen to concerts but does not purchase concert tickets. Hull stated that when requested to move out of the way of fire vehicles and personnel, most pedestrians simply moved across Fir Street and congregated on private property, doing little to alleviate congestion, hampering response efforts.
Hull noted that pedestrian congestion has been an issue in the past. Earlier this summer during the Children’s Festival, he said, Jacksonville medical responders were impeded along Fir Street by pedestrians. With medical responders unable to reach the upper pavilion, they were forced to park lower down the street, forcing responders to run all the way up the Britt hill with medical supplies and equipment in-hand to reach a cardiac arrest victim. Hull stated that when responding to the recent grass fire, response vehicles were not only forced to dodge pedestrians along Fir Street, but street-side lawn chairs, blankets, picnic tables and baskets belonging to the “sitters” that were encroaching into portions of the street.
In the interest of Public Safety, Hull advised banning pedestrian access “above the chain” on Fir Street. After expressing its support, Council asked Hull to consult with Police Chief David Towe prior to the next council meeting to draft a new public safety policy. If adopted, the new policy will restrict pedestrian traffic on Fir Street during Britt concerts to ticket holders entering the venue, those parking vehicles in the upper parking lot and hikers using the woodland trails.