911 Told Fire Victim That Fire Was Controlled Burn

Sam Lucas Called For Help; Friend Of Ann Appel Called 911, Concerned For Her Safety

Hours worth of 911 calls during the Lower North Fork fire reveal confusion, panic and nervous residents desperate for information.

7NEWS was the first to obtain the 911 recordings from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. The fifth recorded call came from Sam Lucas. He died in the fire, along with his wife Linda.

Dispatch: "JeffCo 911."

Lucas: "Yes, this is Sam Lucas, we live up in the foothills and we just got home and looks like there's a fire right at the foot of Cathedral Spires…."

Dispatch: "That is a controlled burn. The (Colorado State) Forest Service is out there on scene with that."

Lucas: "Yeah, we got 79-mile an hour winds up here and they got a controlled burn?"

Dispatch: "Yes."

Lucas: "Oh wonderful. Thank you."

Dispatch: "Uh-huh. Bye."

Ann Appel also died in the fire. Her remains were found in her burned home over the weekend. One of her friends called 911, concerned for her safety.

Friend: "The husband is gone, he's out of state. The wife is on chemo, she's a little sickly. We have no idea if anybody even knows -- we just know that the fire went through their property because we were able to get a hold of neighbors, so can I give you the address so you can go and see if she's alright?"

Friend: "She's a young thing and she's got cancer and she's got chemo. She hasn't answered the phone and we know that the fire went right through the neighbors. She had her stuff packed to leave, the car had a flat tire; I mean it was all this whole mess, and like I said her husband's in Montana. "

Dispatch: "What is her name?"

Friend: "Ann Appel. A-P-P-E-L."

Callers Reported Flames All Around Them

Other residents who called 911 reported seeing flames right near them.

Caller: ""There's fire beyond me. I'm on the asphalt; the trees are all burned around me. I'm probably in a safe spot. I'm in my driveway, the fire has burned through. I think I'm safe. My house may be burning, yes it is, -- damn it."

Another caller was concerned for her neighbor.

Dispatch: "Is there somebody trapped?"

Caller: "The driveway is on fire."

Dispatch: "The driveway's on fire?"

Caller: "And they don't even know. They don't even know because they live way back in the back."

Some people who called 911 ended up with a different jurisdiction answering the phone. One caller had to be transferred from a West Metro Fire Department dispatcher.

West Metro Fire Dispatcher: "I have Edgar on the line. He's stating he's at (address withheld) Eagle Vista Drive and he's stating that his house has just burned down."

Dispatch: "OK, yes. He, uh, is in the evacuation area. Is he OK?"

West Metro Fire Dispatcher: "Edgar, did you hear that?"

Edgar: "Yeah, we've evacuated."

The very first 911 caller guessed correctly about the cause of the fire.

Caller: "I'm looking down toward Platte River Road; I think the prescribed burn down there is fired up again."

Subsequent callers heard the same information from dispatchers.

Caller: "Hi, I'm calling about a fire. Do you have a report of a fire over in the, like, Foxton Road area?"

Dispatch: "Yes ma'am. That is a controlled burn. It was lit last week and they're out there -- uh, they're out finishing it up."

Caller: "Guess what, it didn't go out, right?"

Dispatch: "Yeah, I guess not."

Before evacuations were ordered, dispatchers were alerting callers to keep watching the news.

Dispatch: "It's in the same exact area where they were doing the controlled burn."

Caller:"There hasn't been any evacuations or anything?"

Dispatch: "Nope, the news knows about it and will keep you updated, OK?"

Shortly after that, dispatchers talked about sending out reverse notifications to warn residents.

Caller: "I'm going to be leaving this residence, so how will I know if it's going to be bad or not?"

Dispatch: "We would put out, like a notification, if it's getting that bad."

Evacuation Order Sent To Wrong List

Caller: "I got a call on my cell phone about evacuations at Conifer High School, is there something going on?"

Dispatch: "OK, you should not have gotten that message."

Dispatchers had to spend time telling dozens of callers that the evacuation notice was not meant for them.

Dispatch: "A lot of people got it in error."

Dispatch: "It looks like you got that, um, evacuation in error, so you can disregard it."

Dispatch: "Yeah, if you're going to be evacuated, they'll go door-to-door."

One caller received a text message, but not the phone call and started to warn her neighbors. She was later told that she was not in the evacuation zone.

Caller: "The only reason I know this is because I got a text on my cell phone. I never got the reverse 911, so I ran around and called my neighbors and nobody knew this."

After giving the dispatcher her address, the caller found out she was not in the intended evacuation area.

Caller: "I've gone and told the neighbors, they'll say, 'I'm a crazy lady.' Well, that's kind of scary I got that notice."

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.

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

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

The first wave of automated calls ordering residents to evacuate was sent at 5:05 p.m., but it went to the wrong list of phone numbers, sheriff's spokesman Mark Techmeyer said Tuesday.

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

"It went out wrong," Techmeyer said Tuesday. "That was a user error on our end."

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

Sheriff's officials have said Lucas and his wife, Linda, got a call, as did Appel. It wasn't immediately clear when the calls came.

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 cell phones still could get the evacuation order, Techmeyer said.

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