We'd just driven two hours through the dry, dry landscape when we spotted a fire on the side of the road just south of I-70. A small fire --- but then, the Lower North Fork fire was once small. I dialed 911, whose dispatchers are still feeling the heat over their response to calls about that conflagration.
Those dispatchers were in Jefferson County, where the Lower North Fork fire, which started as a prescribed burn, wound up torching more than six square miles and killing three people. But Denver 911 also has its problems: On April 1, a Denver operator told Jimma Reat, who'd called to report a road-rage incident, to return to the scene to wait for police -- which he did, and was killed for his efforts. Denver officials held a press conference the next day to discuss the incident.
Four days later, 911 responded on the second ring.
"What's your location?" the dispatcher asked.
"Colorado Boulevard near I-70."
Without missing a beat: "Are you calling about that weed fire?"
"So others have called?"
"Yes. And the truck is on the way."
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In the few minutes that weed fire -- possibly caused by a lit cigarette being thrown from a car, an act that was made illegal back in that last big fire season a decade ago -- had flared up, it turns out 911 had received several calls from newly sensitized civilians.
And Denver's operator, perhaps also newly sensitized, provided a clear, quick response.
As we drove on, we heard the sirens approaching.
More from our News archive: "Lower North Fork Fire photo gallery: Symbols of blazes to come?"