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Emergency Communications Show Firefighters Underestimated Deadly Wildfire

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Lower North Fork Fire (credit: CBS)

Lower North Fork Fire (credit: CBS)

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GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

Investigator Rick Sallinger

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- Emergency communications involving firefighters and sheriff’s deputies responding to a wildfire that killed three people in Jefferson County show they didn’t expect it to explode as it did.

At 2:12 p.m. the audio recording states “low spread potential” from the controlled burn by the state Forest Service that got out of control.

Reports that were recorded state that winds were gusting up to 50 mph and calls for more equipment. Some of the resources were diverted to another fire. Air tankers were requested but the winds were too strong.

At 2:40 p.m. evacuations are first mentioned on the transmissions. That was followed by an actual call for homeowners to get out two and a half hours later.



Elk Creek Fire Dispatch 2:40 p.m.: “We may need to start looking into evacuation of Reynolds and possibly further up if we don’t catch this soon.”

Elk Creek Fire Dispatch 4:59 p.m.: “Did you guys copy the mandatory evacuation? We’re going to go by Conifer High School with that.”

North Fork Fire Dispatch: “We are requesting mandatory evacuation. We’ve hit our trigger point for everything south.”

North Fork Fire Dispatch: “Eagle Vista Drive. All parties trapped at location by fire.”

The address on the final call is slightly different from that of Sam and Linda Lucas. They died in the fire after firefighters went door to door and told them to get out. They chose to stay and tend to fire suppression equipment.

Another person, Ann Appel, died in the fire. There was a chain across her driveway and firefighters did not reach her home.

Some of the transmissions describe a deputy trapped in the fire.

Deputy: “I need help, I’m in trouble.”

North Fork Fire Dispatch: “Okay. Emergency traffic North Trail and Kuester Roads, North Trail and Kuester Roads. I have a deputy trapped.”

The deputy was able to escape but the department’s SUV was burned in the fire.

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