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Alarming fire warning pushed out to cellphones across Napa County and beyond
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Alarming fire warning pushed out to cellphones across Napa County and beyond

Tens of thousands of Napa County cellphones erupted at 11:14 a.m. Thursday with an “Emergency Alert” telling residents to be mindful of wildfire danger.

“Extreme Fire Danger. Stay Alert and leave area if you feel unsafe,” the message warned.

The alert panicked some south county residents who had assumed, based on earlier fire reports, that they were safe from the Upvalley’s Glass Fire. Had a new fire broken out in the south county?

Almost immediately, the City of Napa sent out a Nixle message telling city residents “PLEASE DO NOT CALL 911 FOR INFORMATION.”

“There is no immediate threat to City of Napa or near surrounding area at this time,” the city said. “The Glass Fire is in the area of St. Helena, Calistoga and Angwin.”

Janet Upton, the county’s public information officer, said the alert was intended as a countywide caution in advance of the winds that are expected to pick up Thursday afternoon and fan the Glass Fire.

The goal was have county residents “remain vigilant this afternoon,” Upton said.

Napa County is under a Red Flag warning now through until 6 a.m. Saturday, with gusts of 25 to 30 mph expected, according to the National Weather Service.

Thursday’s surprise cellphone message was a new type of alert. The county pushed out its notice using the federal Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) that goes to all cellphones in a designated geographical area. Unlike Nixle, cell owners don’t have to sign up for the service.

This Glass Fire wake-up call was briefly discussed Thursday afternoon by the Napa County Board of Supervisors who heard an explanation from Kerry John Whitney, the county’s Risk and Emergency Services manager, about the advantages of push notifications that go to everyone, even visitors to the valley.

“I am sorry as a county we startled residents. Certainly, there are lesson learned,” County Supervisor Belia Ramos said.

But the message did alert people who needed to know about the emergency, said Ramos, who said she appreciates the county’s efforts to try do better next time.

Shortly after sending out the “Extreme Fire Danger” IPAWS warning, the county followed up with a clarifying Nixle of its own, intending to reassure county residents far from the Glass Fire that they were not in harm’s way.

The message was intending to alert all Napa County of current fire danger in Northern Napa County. There are currently no new fires,” the Nixle said.

For information on the most current evacuation orders and warnings, visit: https://www.countyofnapa.org/2994/Glass-Fire

Solano County sent out its own followup Nixle, saying the fire danger message was also received by some Solano residents, but wasn’t intended for them and there were no evacuations in effect in that county.

Even Marin County sent out a disregard message to its residents, some of whom had also received the Napa County fire alert.

This was the second IPAWS message since the start of the Glass Fire Sunday morning. Shortly after 1 a.m. Monday, a similar message was sent to 57,000 county residents, county officials said.

That message was intended for Upvalley residents, but some phones in the City of Napa also received the warning.

Watch Now: Aerial video reveals scorched landscape from Glass Fire

Register reporter Barry Eberling contributed to this report.

You can reach City Editor Kevin Courtney at kcourtney@napanews.com or at 707-256-2217.

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City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.

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