California Wildfires Latest

Oct 27, 2019
Originally published on October 27, 2019 11:54 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A massive wildfire continues to rage in Northern California's Sonoma County, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions. Tens of thousands of residents have been ordered from their homes, from the inland all the way to the coastline. NPR's Eric Westervelt is covering the fire, and he joins us now.

Hi.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us where you are and what you're seeing.

WESTERVELT: Well, I'm in an evacuation center in Santa Rosa that's been filled up as police and fire sort of dramatically expanded the number evacuated from, really, the entire northern section of Santa Rosa. Early this morning, there was this eerie and interesting scene at, you know, 4 in the morning with complete darkness where the streets looked like rush hour. Everywhere was just packed with people in a - wouldn't say panic - but an orderly but stressed-out evacuation. Police were driving around, you know, announcing on loudspeakers, saying simply, you know, get out now, in Spanish and English, going around to apartment complexes, really getting people to try to heed these orders as, you know, the winds whipped up and the fear that this Kincade fire could spread.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This fire, the Kincade fire, ignited Wednesday evening. Give us an update on what it's done.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, this blaze has burned some 30,000 acres so far. It's only 11% contained. Firefighters are now working hard to get a bigger containment line and expand that percentage. And you know, as I mentioned, these incredibly strong winds overnight and this morning - that's the big fear. They can toss embers, you know, a mile or more. And this is, you know, a city that in 2017 lost 22 people when a fast-moving blaze on these North Bay fires, you know, swept through a residential suburban area.

There was a lot of criticism - rightfully so - that these alerts just came too late for people. And so now in many ways, the fire and police are being, you know, out of an abundance of caution, expanding the numbers evacuated from this city that really is very much recovering from that 2017 fire. It's still a city where those memories of that fire two years ago are completely fresh. Everyone was - we saw were getting their cars very quickly, leaving, you know, as the authorities drove around.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. PG&E, the major utility in Northern California, has deliberately cut power to fire-prone areas as a preventative measure, again, in that abundance of caution. Has that complicated the evacuations?

WESTERVELT: It has. I mean, power's out to almost 3 million people in large parts of counties in the northern part north of San Francisco and in parts of the Bay Area, as well. So sometimes, you know, traffic lights are out. And it simply makes things more difficult, more complicated. And there's a lot of anger at PG&E. They've got a shoddy track record of safety. They've caused - their equipment has caused fires in the past. And there's a real frustration with this bankrupt company and how they're handling these shutoffs and their overall safety record.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt who's reporting with NPR producer Elizabeth Baker in Sonoma County, Calif.

Eric, thank you so much.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRUCE COCKBURN SONG, "EMBERS OF EDEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.