California Wildfires Destroy Town, Threatens Others And Forces Mass Evacuations

Nov 9, 2018
Originally published on November 9, 2018 5:02 pm
Copyright 2018 KQED. To see more, visit KQED.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now to California, where at least six major wildfires are burning. One in Butte County rapidly spread overnight, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes. At least six people have died there. Outside of LA, officials say more than 150 homes have been destroyed, and some 250,000 people are under evacuation orders. Jeremy Siegel from member station KQED has more.

JEREMY SIEGEL, BYLINE: On Thursday, a fast-moving blaze broke out near the northwest of Los Angeles. The region's notorious Santa Ana winds began pushing the fire. Today the winds pushed the blaze towards the ocean, and officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of all residents of Malibu. In Northern California, about 90 miles from Sacramento, communities in Butte County are coated in ash and smoke. The so-called Camp Fire, which also sparked on Thursday morning, nearly quadrupled in size overnight.

MELISA ESTALILLA: There was fire everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Surrounded.

ESTALILLA: We were surrounded by fire.

SIEGEL: Melisa Estalilla says she tried to flee her home, but the road was blocked by fire.

ESTALILLA: And we didn't make it far. We went - we made it to Rite Aid. And then they - the fire department actually broke into Rite Aid and - so we have a safe place to be because there was fire everywhere.

SIEGEL: Estalilla and a group of others spent the night stranded in the Rite Aid. She says she thought they were going to die until first responders came and brought them to safety. Sandra Peltola and her family, originally from Malibu, had a little more luck getting out of town but not much of it.

SANDRA PELTOLA: We tried to go south on Skyway, and we were engulfed in flames both sides of the route - scared me to death, knees started shaking, turned the car around, went north instead of south.

SIEGEL: They were able to get out. But Peltola says all in all, it took her family 11 hours to make it to the evacuation center. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper. Some people even abandoned their cars and decided to flee on foot. The erratic, gusty winds that fueled the blaze have died down a bit today, but Cal Fire Chief Bill Murphy says there's still no end in sight.

BILL MURPHY: We are by no means out of the woods as far as the danger posed by the fire.

SIEGEL: He added that the blaze had burned 70,000 acres in about 24 hours. California's acting governor, Gavin Newsom, has declared states of emergency for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties due to the fires. For NPR News, I'm Jeremy Siegel in Butte County, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF MNDSGN & SOFIE'S "ABEJA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.