Colo. sheriff notes problems with fire warnings
CONIFER, Colo. (AP) — Authorities said Friday they are investigating how well an emergency telephone notification system worked during a deadly Colorado wildfire because some residents who signed up never got a warning.
About 12 percent of the people authorities intended to notify didn't get a warning Monday about the wildfire in the mountains southwest of Denver. Jefferson County sheriff's spokesman Mark Techmeyer said some of those people likely hung up after hearing a pause that precedes the automated message, or their phone lines may have been busy.
He said that is bound to happen in any emergency, but authorities were most concerned that there wasn't any attempt to reach an unknown number of additional people registered to get the telephone alerts.
"We want to get to the bottom of this as much as our citizens do," Techmeyer said.
The company that handles the system, Baton Rouge, La.-based FirstCall Network Inc., said it worked exactly as it should have. FirstCall provides the alert service to as many as 200 agencies nationwide.
"I know that everyone who opted in got the call," FirstCall President Mark Teague said Friday. "We're working closely with (county officials) trying to get them all the information they need."
FirstCall's system is set up to call three times at three-minute intervals if a phone line is busy, Teague said. Local agencies can change that if they wish and can also decide what message appears on a recipient's telephone if it has caller ID. Jefferson County's system also sends text messages, FirstCall said.
Monday's calls went out in two waves. The first included people outside the evacuation area and even outside Colorado, Techmeyer said. He didn't know the times of the calls.
Sheriff's officials said a couple found dead in the fire zone got a call, as did a woman who remains missing, but it wasn't immediately clear when the calls came.
About 550 firefighters have contained 70 percent of the 6-square-mile wildfire, which was apparently sparked by a state controlled burn that sprang to life in strong winds. The fire damaged or destroyed at least 25 homes, and residents of about 180 homes remain evacuated.
Rescuers were still searching for Ann Appel, reported missing since Monday, while a memorial service was held Friday for Sam Lamar Lucas, 77, and Linda M. Lucas, 76.
There have been other concerns about the response to the fire.
Elk Creek Fire Protection District Chief Bill McLaughlin told KUSA-TV in Denver that state firefighters were using a different radio frequency than local firefighters after flames were spotted, and agencies were driving back and forth for about an hour to relay messages.
McLaughlin later started using two radios, with one tuned to each frequency, KUSA reported. He didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press after business hours Friday.
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