An evacuation alert sent out Wednesday caused some confusion among some people near the Cruces Fire.
The fire broke out along Highway 1, a few miles west of the intersection with Highway 101 in southern Santa Barbara County.
The evacuation alert was sent out by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office to residents in Cojo Ranch, Gaviota Beach, and Hollister Ranch. It was unclear whether the alert meant residents should evacuate immediately. The sheriff’s office said it was actually meant as a warning, but it did cause some unintended results.
Residents agree the alert was unclear, mentioning no information about a warning or mandatory evacuation notice. According to the sheriff’s office, it was sent to more than 250 phone lines out of an abundance of caution.
"If there is a deputy out in the field and they see a fire and they know it has the potential to spread quickly and are concerned about people in that area, they can make the call to evacuate," said Kelly Hoover, Public Information Officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
However, fire officials say the fire was headed in the opposite direction of the evacuations — north instead of south toward the oceanfront Gaviota-area homes.
"We would rather over communicate and cause maybe some inconvenience than the opposite where people didn’t have the opportunity to leave," Hoover said. "In this case, it sounds like there was maybe some people who had to leave that maybe shouldn’t have had to and for that, that’s unfortunate and we are still working on this. We definitely care about our residents and community members and we want you all to be safe. We will continue to perfect our system and continue to work closely with the fire department like we do here in Santa Barbara County."
Everyone evacuated safely and the alert was canceled a few hours later.
Separate from the dispatch alerts, residents are urged to sign up for the Office of Emergency Management’s "Aware and Prepare" alerts online. They recommend always having a plan in place if the power goes out, especially if your only phone line is plugged into the wall.