San Diego 911 dispatcher shares chilling calls that poured in during wildfires

by Tony Shin

Emergency dispatchers in San Diego have released 911 phone calls made by frightened homeowners at the height of last week's firestorm.

Officials said they received thousands of calls from citizens throughout the county.

One caller was in an area under a mandatory evacuation order when she called in.

Caller: "I'm engulfed in flames and my property is on fire and I'm in the house and I can't get out."

Dispatcher: "You're inside a house that's on fire?"

Caller: "I'm inside the house, yes."

Dispatcher: "What's the address?"

Caller: "The fire is all around me on the property. My whole property is in flames, Oh, the house is so smoky."

The elderly woman who called was not hurt and her home did not burn, but two people were found dead in the ashes of their wooden house about a mile east of her home, in an unincorporated county area about 40 miles north of downtown San Diego.
About five miles west, Elizabeth Thorson also was by herself when the fire torched a hill and neared her home.
Dispatcher: "Are you trapped inside your house?"

Caller: "Not yet but I'm trying to leave."

Dispatcher: "How old are you?"

Caller: "I'm 83."

Dispatcher: "Are you there by yourself?"

Caller: "Yes."

Dispatcher: "Is your house on fire?"

Caller: "No not yet but it's pretty close."

Dispatcher: "It's close?"

Caller "M-hmmm."

Soon, firefighters arrived and pried open the garage door -- the power had gone out -- so Thorson and her neighbor could drive to safety.

Her house was spared.

Overall, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department fielded 2,161 calls between Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, nearly three times more than usual, according to spokesman Maurice Luque.

"Those were all fire calls," Luque said. "People saying, 'My house is on fire, I need rescuing, I need help."'

The department is still working to tally the number of rescues made during the fires.

Agencies in other counties hit by the fires, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange, have not released their tapes.