Rumor has it


Brandon McCapes, Deputy News Editor


In the first week of the North Bay fires, breakdowns in communication systems and errors with Nixle and SoCo reports, coupled with closed roads and an atmosphere of fear, fueled rumors that spread faster than wildfire.

On Oct. 10, a Nixle report informed subscribers that police implemented a mandatory evacuation for parts of Bennett Valley and some areas of the Santa Rosa neighborhood of the same name, and misinformation about the need to evacuate the entire neighborhood spread by word-of-mouth.

Shortly after the evacuation notice, bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged up all major roadways out of Southeast Santa Rosa, although firefighters confirmed no evacuation notice had been issued for the area.

Former Santa Rosa Junior College student and Kenwood resident Ariana Sanchez, 23, said, “With Bennett Valley, people were saying that there’s a mandatory evacuation. Then I get a Nixle report that says it’s advisory. I’m just getting a lot of hearsay.”

Bennett Valley resident and SRJC student Claire Peyton, 27, said, “Honestly, at this point I’m treating everything as rumor, except the news, and they’ve been saying the same thing.”

“I heard that all the animals had been let loose out of Safari West. Someone even told me all of Larkfield had been leveled and that’s just not true. There is stuff there; we just don’t know what. I heard Kenwood was gone, that Glen Ellen was gone,” Peyton said on Oct. 11.

Glen Ellen and Kenwood have sustained damage but much of the two towns remains in tact. Safari West confirmed that no animals had escaped the fences and a Nixle report debunked the rumor of a fire at Spring Lake.

Greg Karraker, president of the Board of Ranch Adobe Fire Protection District, attempted to keep his Penngrove neighbors informed as misinformation caused people to think the fire posed a greater risk to the Penngrove area than it actually did.

“They all involved the fire being closer than it was. It was always, ‘The sky is falling,'” Karraker said.

Karraker used the social media website NextDoor to provide his community with information specific to them.

The fires exposed major flaws in Sonoma County’s emergency alert system. Karraker said better and more modern communication protocols could ensure that residents get accurate information during future times of crisis.

“It’s human nature. It’s the fog of uncertainty. You just don’t know what’s happening, and it looks bad,” said Karraker.

“The rumors underscore the need for current, visual, understandable and complete information on a mobile phone.”