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911 calls show residents misled over Colorado wildfire
Delayed evacuation » Questions arise about emergency officials’ response to the fast-growing fire, which authorities believe killed three people.


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The first wave of automated calls ordering residents to evacuate was sent at 5:05 p.m. but they went to the wrong list of phone numbers, Techmeyer said.

"It was way too large geographically," he said, adding that he had no other details. "That was a user error on our end."

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That call was halted, and a new round of calls was started at 5:23 p.m., he said.

The 911 recordings show that that initial bad round of notifications caused even more confusion in the dispatch center.

Calls from people who wrongly got evacuation notices are mixed with more residents calling to report smoke and fire nearby. Dispatchers appear to become increasingly overwhelmed while fielding so many types of calls back-to-back.

Simultaneously, residents who were under mandatory evacuation called dispatchers to find out if they had to leave their homes. Some of those people do not indicate they received evacuation notices before calling 911 themselves.

A caller named Neal Biller on Sunburst Drive told a dispatcher he didn’t get an evacuation call but a neighbor did.

The dispatcher said he didn’t need to evacuate if he didn’t get a call, but Biller asked her to look up his address.

A few seconds later the dispatcher said, "OK, yeah, it looks like on Sunburst you are to evacuate, so yes, do evacuate."

"Wow. Really?" Biller said.


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"I wonder why you didn’t get the call?" the dispatcher asked.

"Well I’m glad I called," Biller said.

Some dispatchers did urge people to err on the side of caution and evacuate if they felt they were in danger.

FirstCall Network Inc., which provides the county’s automated phone call system, said the first round of calls went to anyone who had signed up for the service on a county website, whether or not they lived in the evacuation area.

FirstCall logged slightly different times for the erroneous call — 4:50 p.m. — and for the start of the second round of calls, 5:16 p.m.

FirstCall’s president, Matthew Teague, said the corrected calls went to 1,089 phone numbers in six waves, the last one starting at 9:14 p.m.

Teague said 12 busy signals were detected and 32 calls weren’t answered. Another 90 calls went to numbers that had been disconnected or were not set up to receive voice calls. In each case, the system made three attempts to call those numbers, he said.

Intermountain Rural Electric Association, which provides power to the area, cut off the electricity at about 8 p.m., spokesman Mike Kopp said.

That could have rendered some phones inoperable, but residents with cellphones still could get the evacuation order, Techmeyer said.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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