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911 calls on Tahoe fire initially dismissed

July 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Two dispatchers with the California Highway Patrol initially dismissed 911 calls reporting a fire on the south rim of Lake Tahoe, causing a seven- to nine-minute delay in response, recordings released Friday show.

On the tape of five calls answered by the CHP's Truckee field office, dispatchers tell callers the smoke they are seeing is from a controlled burn in the area. The smoke actually was from a fire that ultimately destroyed 254 homes and burned 3,100 acres of wilderness.

"I'm on the golf course, it's -- uh -- Lake Tahoe Country Club, and we can see smoke coming off the mountain to the west of us," a man reports, according to a transcript of the first call received by the CHP at 2:02 p.m. June 24.

"Yeah. Yeah, they're doing a -- a control burn there," the dispatcher responds.

"Thank you," the unidentified male caller responds. "Sorry to bother you."

Capt. Gary Ross, commander of the Truckee field office, said those dismissals caused a delayed response to the fire.

The dispatchers also did not follow CHP policy, which instructs them to keep callers on the line and transfer them to a local fire department. Instead, they let the callers hang up.

Both dispatchers have been reassigned while the CHP investigates, Ross said.

"We have policies in place to make sure these type of things don't happen," he said.

The CHP said it would not release the names of the dispatchers. One is a 27-year CHP veteran and the other has been a dispatcher for 17 years, Ross said.

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