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Did robo-calls alert wrong neighborhoods?

On Twitter today, people are expressing outrage at people who got stranded at their homes after failing to heed an evacuation order, placing firefighters in a dangerous position. But this is a different story – about people who were told to leave by mistake.

Told to leave by robotic telephone calls.

Anne McNeill of La Crescenta says she was among many residents on her street who got a 2 a.m. automated call from the Sheriff’s Department telling her she was under a mandatory evacuation order.

She went out and debated with her neighbors the improbability of fire reaching their homes. They live on Alabama Street which is about 10 blocks form the evacuation zone in her area, she said.

After calling the sheriff’s office and learning her street got the evacuation calls by mistake, she ran into family friends who lived on another street that sheriff’s deputies had been clearing out using a loudspeaker as well as the automated calls.

The family didn’t know what to do. They didn't want to defy the police, so McNeill invited the couple, their teenage son, and their dog to stay at her small home for the night. When the son drove home early the next morning, there was no sign of sheriff’s deputies and they learned that his family’s street was also evacuated by mistake.

“It seems like there isn’t a lot of communication among the agencies,” McNeill said in a phone interview from her home.

Several people commented on the mistaken evacuations of La Crescenta on Twitter.

Cindy White was evacuated for real Saturday afternoon and permitted to return home to La Crescenta Sunday. "Then we were re-evacuated last night at 2 but realized it was a mistake, we weren't supposed to be, and we came back home," she told KPCC's Mike Roe

Two deputies at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Department station were unable to confirm the mistaken calls and referred questions to command post phone numbers that went unanswered.

9/1/09 Update: On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich confirmed the erroneous evacuation order to residents of La Crescenta, his spokeswoman Ali Navid said. He asked the county executive officer to review the system's effectiveness and flaws and report back in two weeks.