In Northern California, Wildfires Continue To Rage

Nov 9, 2018
Originally published on November 9, 2018 10:42 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There are two big wildfires burning in two different parts of California today. The Woolsey fire has scorched thousands of acres in Ventura County north of Los Angeles. Yes, that's right. The very same county that suffered a mass shooting this week also has a wildfire to deal with. And then there's the Camp fire. That has destroyed thousands of acres in Butte County, which is north of the capital, Sacramento. Jeremy Siegel is there. He's a reporter from member station KQED, and he's on the line. Good morning.

JEREMY SIEGEL, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what have you been seeing today?

SIEGEL: I'm seeing a lot of smoke right now. It's daytime, but it looks like nighttime. The sky is totally gray. It's very dark. Earlier, I was driving within one of the evacuation zones in Paradise, which is an area near Chico and Butte County. And I just saw just many, many homes completely burned to the ground. There was fire on both sides of the roadway. So it's quite an active scene here. And it's quite scary.

INSKEEP: Fire officials have described Paradise as being completely destroyed, which is shocking to think about. Fires tend to jump around and maybe preserve more than you would think. But it seems to be pretty massive - massive destruction.

SIEGEL: Yeah, and I wish I could say that I've never seen anything like this before. But I saw this a year ago in the North Bay in wine country. And I saw it just a couple months ago in Redding. So this is becoming, you know, a familiar sight up here in Northern California. Entire communities just completely scorched to the ground.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from people you're able to talk to?

SIEGEL: I've been hearing some pretty dramatic stories. I spoke to one woman who was trapped in a Rite Aid in Magalia, which is near Paradise, for the entire night and had to be saved by sheriff's deputies. I spoke to another woman, Sandra Peltola (ph). She's a resident also of Magalia and Butte County. She says when she woke up early in the morning yesterday, she noticed that the sky was completely black. She packed up her family's firebox, which has essential supplies, gathered almost all of their cats - they have five - but weren't unable to get all of them and got in her car.

SANDRA PELTOLA: We tried to go south on Skyway, and we were engulfed in flames, both sides around. Scared me to death. Knees started shaking. Turned the car around, went north instead of south, which was a good move. But then we tried to gather the family members. We didn't know where they were. After a while, we realized we didn't have any time. So we just - to look for them or anything. So we just headed out.

INSKEEP: Jeremy, where did you find her? - which is my way of asking, where are people going for shelter?

SIEGEL: I found her at an evacuation center at the Butte County Fairgrounds. And all in all, Steve, it took her 11 hours to get to that evacuation center. That's because traffic was bumper to bumper. There weren't many roadways around here. One of their cars ran out of gas. So there are evacuation centers. But at times, they're difficult for people to get to. So that's where people are. And that's where they're wondering whether their homes have survived.

INSKEEP: We would like to think that firefighters can bring a fire like this under control. But speaking realistically, are we actually just waiting for this fire to burn itself out?

SIEGEL: Well, there were red-flag conditions until recently. It looks like they have expired. And that means that they're extremely dangerous fire conditions. That being said, it's still very dry out here. There's still wind, and the fire is still very active. So at this point, no end in sight. But, you know, there's potential that conditions could work in firefighters' favor today.

INSKEEP: Meaning cooler weather or rainier weather might be better than whatever you've had.

SIEGEL: Exactly, yes.

INSKEEP: OK. Jeremy, thanks so much for your work. Really appreciate it.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Be safe. That's Jeremy Siegel of KQED. He is in Butte County, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.