CREATED Jul. 11, 2013
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The phones are ringing off the hook at an information and call center set up to field questions about the Carpenter 1 wildfire.
"If we didn't have this, we'd probably have a mess on our hands," said information officer Larry Helmerick.
While firefighters tackle the flames, operators are tackling the phones.
Helmerick said the information center takes about 500 calls each day from around the region and the country. Most calls come from residents who live nearby or who were evacuated.
Helmerick said the most common questions about the fire: How far is it? Where is it? How many acres is it? Have I lost my home?
Five lines are staffed 14 hours a day. Annaleasa Winter made the trip from Florida to help in the public information efforts.
"When the fire is up and running, when there's a huge column of smoke, the phones are ringing constantly," said Winter.
The center started taking public calls about five days ago.
"You really have to focus because there's a lot of activity in there, a lot of calls coming in at the same time," said Winter, who also helps spread information through social media.
Many of the people working in the center are from other states, part of a collaboration of numerous agencies.
"We're so close that we're able to almost instantaneously provide an answer," said Helmerick. "If we don't have it, we can get it in a matter of minutes."
The busiest time of the day for calls is early morning and late evening when updates about the fire are called in from the field, Helmerick said.
"It's customer service," said Winter. "That's what we're here to do and those are the customers so we're not going to leave them waiting."
The information telephone line is 702-799-4610. Despite the volume, workers at the information center said they have not had problems taking all of the calls.