Wildfire alerts sent out to residents nowhere near fires

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DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Despite there being no wildfires in Douglas County Thursday, a series of text alerts were sent to residents across the county.

“We were here at the house and we heard the alert go off on my daughter’s phone,” said Shawn Settle, describing the Akerman Fire alert that came through on her child’s phone.

Settle lives in Elbert County, roughly 40 miles away from the fire that burned in eastern Colorado Springs Thursday. By the evening hours, the evacuation notice for the fire was lifted, but some people were still left wondering why they were notified in the first place.

“Why did I get the notice?” one woman wrote on Facebook.

“Well when I read the alert, I knew where we lived so I knew we were pretty safe,” Settle said.

Fire agencies from Falcon, Douglas County and Elbert County all took to social media to let residents know the emergency alerts were for areas in El Paso County.

Tim Johnson, director of Douglas County Office of Emergency Management, said the system — Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) — worked the way it should.

“[El Paso County] didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just the way that system is built,” Johnson said. Douglas County uses the same system.

IPAWS is operated through FEMA. Johnson says when agencies launch an IPAWS alert, it’s because crews are tackling a fast-moving fire.

“If it looks like a particular situation is growing and expanding, then we’ll go to the IPAWS system,” Johnson said. “It tends to spill over into other jurisdictions, like what happened today. Not unlike what would happen if we were to launch an IPAWS, it would probably spill over into Arapahoe County or on the south end, maybe into El Paso County.”

Johnson says while the system may notify more people than what’s needed, it’s always used to save lives.

“It’s out of an abundance of caution that we want folks to know there’s an event going on,” Johnson said. “We want you to be aware, and if you’re in that area, we want you to evacuate and be safe.”

“Colorado motto is to be prepared for any and all weather and that includes, unfortunately, fire season, which has gotten really bad here,” Settle said.