USA — DENVER Sam Lucas was among the first to begin calling 911 about a wildfire burning near his home on the outskirts of Denver.
But the dispatcher, having already answered a handful of calls about the fire, cut Lucas off to tell him it was a controlled burn and that the forest service was on the scene.
We got 79-mile-an-hour winds out there and they got a controlled burn? Lucas said on the 911 call, one of 130 calls over a total of 10 hours that were released Tuesday.
When the dispatcher says yes, he replies Oh wonderful. Thank you.
Lucas hung up, and within an hour, he and his wife were dead.
The 911 calls from March 26 raised further questions about emergency officials response to last weeks fast-growing fire, which authorities believe killed three people, damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes and burned 6 square miles in the mountains southwest of Denver.
Residents began calling to express concern about the fire and high winds around 2 p.m., and at first dispatchers assured them the heavy smoke and flames werent a threat. Later they acknowledged that there was some trouble with a prescribed burn but told callers that firefighters were at the scene.
Jefferson County sheriffs office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said sheriffs officials were aware the controlled burn had broken its perimeter that afternoon but she said the agency didnt know the fire had gotten out of control until a local fire department sent a notification at 5 p.m. She said thats when a firefighter first made a suggestion for evacuations.
We have to listen to what groups in the field are telling us, Kelley said of why evacuations werent called earlier. If theyre saying theres a controlled burn and the state forest service is on the scene, we dont just create evacuations for a fire that has gone outside the perimeter.
Residents in the mountains are particularly sensitive to smoke in the air, and it wasnt unusual for dispatchers to receive calls about seeing smoke from the controlled burn, Kelley said. The dispatchers messages to callers changed as the situation changed, she said.
A neighbor has said Lucas, 77, and his wife, Linda, 76, were packed and ready to go if they got orders to evacuate. Authorities say they did eventually get one but its not clear when.
A friend concerned about the third person who apparently died in the fire also called to ask authorities to check on Ann Appel because she was getting chemotherapy and her husband was out of state. However, that call seems to have come after it was too late to help her.
Shes a little sickly. We have no idea if anybody even knows shes there, the caller said. We know the fire went through her property because we were able to get ahold of the neighbor.
The caller said Appel who didnt get an evacuation notice wasnt answering her phone. Meanwhile, authorities say evacuation orders were sent in error to homes that werent in the fires path.
She had her stuff to leave. The car had a flat tire, the caller said.