Fire alerts were lacking some say

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Ojai Valley News photo by Perry Van Houten
Helicopters make water drops in the Ojai area Dec. 5, six days after the fire began.
Andra Belknap, Ojai Valley News reporter
Some Ojai residents received their first word of the Thomas Fire at 10:15 p.m. Dec. 4, via a VC Alert to local phones, according to Ventura County Sheriff's Office (VCSO) Captain James Fryhoff.
The Thomas Fire began burning in the Steckel Park area at approximately 6:30 p.m, according to Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) Division Chief John McNeil. A second fire began at approximately 7 p.m. in the Koenigstein Road area of Upper Ojai, McNeil said.
According to Fryhoff, VCSO used every resource at its disposal to notify residents of the blaze, including VC Alerts, Nixle notifications, wireless emergency alerts (WEA) and in-person notifications to mandatory evacuation areas.
“Our notifications worked as well as we expected them to. We used every mechanism we could to notify people,” Fryhoff said. “We didn't have anybody die in a fire. Everybody got out.”
Upper Ojai resident John Halford said he began seeing smoke around 6:30 p.m Dec. 4.
“We saw the flames and the smoke coming up the hill, I got a lot of phone calls and texts, I didn't get any alerts from my phone,” he said. Power outages were widespread at that point, Halford added. “It wasn't until around 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. that the fire department came through with a bullhorn to say we needed to evacuate. I didn't hear anything until they said, 'you have got to leave now.'”

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