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Dispatcher Tells 911 Caller Fort Clatsop Fire Was Just Fog

ASTORIA, ORE. - An emergency dispatcher dismissed the first 9-1-1 call to report a fire that eventually destroyed historic Fort Clatsop, a newspaper said Wednesday.


The Daily Astorian reported that a woman who called 9-1-1
shortly after 10 p.m. on Oct. 3 to alert dispatchers to what
appeared to be a fire on the south side of Youngs Bay was told that
what she was seeing was likely just the play of light in the rain
and fog.


Not until a second call came several minutes later to a
different dispatcher at the Astoria Police emergency communications
center were local firefighters alerted to the blaze, which gutted
the 50-year-old replica of the fort where Meriwether Lewis and
William Clark camped in 1805 after their famed expedition finally
reached the Pacific Ocean.


The fort was going to be the centerpiece of an event marking the
bicentennial of the expedition.


Lewis and Clark Fire District Chief Ian O'Connor obtained a tape
recording of the 9-1-1 calls and provided it to The Daily Astorian.


"It's quite disturbing to listen to," O'Connor said.


The Lewis and Clark Fire District and three other departments
responded to the blaze. The cause remains undetermined, although
investigators found no evidence of arson at the scene.


The delay in calling out firefighters because the first call was
dismissed likely cost the department about 15 minutes in responding
to the blaze, O'Connor said.


It would not have been enough time to save the fort, which was
almost fully engulfed by the time the first crews arrived, but
arriving 15 minutes earlier may have enabled them to protect some
of the structure, he said.


The following was recorded in the first 9-1-1 call:


Caller: "I see a fire, I'm sure it's already been reported, but
I live on Sonora, on the hill in Astoria. I'm looking over Youngs
Bay River...


Dispatcher: "Yeah, it's kind of foggy and raining out.
Sometimes that happens..."


Caller: "...okay..."


Dispatcher: "...yeah, it's not a fire."


Caller: "Really? It looks like a fire on the other side of the
river."


Dispatcher: "Yeah, it's not a fire."


About 10 minutes later another person called the 9-1-1 center
and reached another dispatcher. The woman reported seeing "bright
orange flaring, and it flares up and goes down, there's a lot of
smoke with it."


After getting the caller's name, address and phone number the
second dispatcher told her, "Okay, we'll have someone check it
out."


Astoria City Manager Dan Bartlett said the police department is
conducting an internal investigation of the incident and the first
dispatcher, whose name was not released. He will also decide
whether any improvements in operations or training are needed, he
said.


"I've heard the recording, and I don't find that to be up to
our standards of what we expect from our dispatchers," he said.

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