‘Somebody hit the wrong button’: Thousands in Shasta Lake city were evacuated accidentally, sheriff says

Carr Fire evacuees ready to go home

Otis Bershers of Shasta Lake said he and his wife, Carol, both 75, are ready to return home with their cat Otis after they were evacuated because of the Carr Fire on Thursday, June 26.
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Otis Bershers of Shasta Lake said he and his wife, Carol, both 75, are ready to return home with their cat Otis after they were evacuated because of the Carr Fire on Thursday, June 26.

As flames from the deadly Carr Fire bore down on western Redding late last Thursday night, residents of the city and nearby communities were issued mandatory evacuation orders and fled their homes.

But one town was evacuated accidentally, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said. Shasta Lake, a 10,000-person settlement north of Redding, was not supposed to be under a mandatory evacuation order, he said.

“There was an overreach in the evacuation order into the city of Shasta Lake, because sometimes a mouse click can extend an area into the map,” he said. “There still was concern for the possibility of a safety threat, although not an imminent one for Shasta Lake.”

Once authorities realized what had happened, a decision was made to leave it in place rather than create confusion and uncertainty among residents, he said, and officials decided that “there was not going to be any active evacuation, going door to door or reverse 911 unless it became necessary.”

Shasta Lake City Manager John Duckett said the evacuation order began with the western portion of the community called Summit City, which was thought to be in danger. But somehow, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for the entire town early Friday morning, according to a Cal Fire news release.

“I’m like, ‘Why? I don’t understand,’” Duckett said Monday afternoon. “I called the sheriff and he said that they made an error — somebody hit the wrong button. I said, ‘Can you change it?’ And he called back and said, ‘Well, they’re not going to release it, they’re going to leave it, but they’re not going to enforce it.’”

Duckett was told the mistaken evacuation order came from Cal Fire but heard that authorities did not want to rescind it for fear it would encourage people in other evacuated areas that actually were threatened by fire to try to return prematurely. Instead, he was told, the order would stand, but it would not be enforced.

Residents of Shasta Lake were not allowed to repopulate until 6 p.m. Monday night, according to Cal Fire. The evacuation order for some areas of Summit City was lifted Tuesday morning.

Residents described panic and bewilderment Thursday night — the Cal Fire news release said evacuation was mandatory, but city and county officials were saying otherwise.

“It was a bit confusing. It was defined as a mandatory evacuation that maybe partially took place?” said Allen Mancasola, the owner of Farmers Sentry Supermarket. “In spite of that, the National Guard wasn’t posted to prohibit people from coming into the area.”

But Bonnie Hurlhey, the executive director of Shasta Lake’s Chamber of Commerce, said Bosenko and Duckett made sure citizens knew the evacuation was optional.

“Our city staff, Shasta Lake Fire District, Shasta County sheriff, they were all here to help us no matter what,” she said. “They made sure that we all knew what was going on.”

Mancasola said many people left — especially when the city lost power Friday — but plenty decided to stay.

“There definitely was kind of an eerie little quietness to the community,” he said, but “it wasn’t totally deserted at all.”

Mike Bradford of the Russell Cycle Products auto parts store agreed the mixed messages led to confusion but thinks that issuing an evacuation order, even though it was accidental, was the right thing to do.

“It’s such an unpredictable fire,” he said. “It’s probably a good thing people got out, just for the spot fires that were starting.”

The Bee’s Cassie Dickman contributed to this report.

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