A five-month KQED investigation of what happened on Oct. 8, 2017, the first night of the Northern California fires, found a series of failures and missteps by both state and local officials that go well beyond previously documented evacuation delays. The fires would end up killing 44 people.
Our review of thousands of 911 and dispatch calls, along with dozens of interviews, has revealed large systemic problems with the state’s emergency response procedures.
The review shows that even with homes burning and lives on the line, first responders and decision-makers remained hamstrung by those problematic procedures and policies. They struggled to adapt as quickly as the fires were moving.
One of the major issues centered around timely evacuation orders. Sonoma County officials sent more than 20,000 reverse 911 calls on the first night of the fires to warn residents to evacuate.
But our analysis of those calls and radio traffic between dispatchers and first responders -- as seen in the map below -- shows that evacuations were requested before the SoCo Alerts were actually sent.