As fires broke out all over Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties on Oct. 8, hundreds of people in the path of the fires called 911 with urgent questions. Should we evacuate? Which way should we turn to stay out of the fire's path?
A KQED investigation surveyed thousands of 911 calls from that night and found that, in many cases, 911 operators could not give people clear directions on which way to flee.
Adrian Diaz lives with his family in Redwood Valley in Mendocino County. A neighbor awakened them around 1 a.m. as the fire rushed toward their homes. He called 911 from their home phone, while his wife and three kids prepared to flee. He got disconnected so he called back from his cellphone.
“They didn't tell me it was an evacuation,” he said. “They just said exit whichever way you feel is the safest. And I was like, OK, well, I don't know — because I didn't know if it was worse north or worse south.”
Two hours later, someone else in Redwood Valley called 911 and asked the operator where to evacuate. The operator said she didn’t know.