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Wildfires Force Evacuations In California's Wine Counties


From Orange County in the south to redwood groves in California's north, wildfires are burning out of control. At least 10 deaths have been confirmed so far. Thousands of homes are threatened, and evacuations are underway. The areas under threat include some of the state's most famous wine producing regions. Reporter John Sepulvado of member station KQED spoke with me from Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, and I asked him, what's happening in Sonoma?

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Right now what we're seeing, Robert, is widespread devastation, a lot of homes, a lot of structures burned to the ground. Right now I am standing out in front of a huge gas flange that is at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park, and firefighters have decided to just let this gas burn. It is less dangerous if it burns into the air as opposed to if they try to put it out. And we're seeing that all around the area. But it's just been - it's something to really see - pools of metal, liquid metal from things that were so hot that the metal liquefied and then formed a pool - just absolutely incredible to look at.

SIEGEL: John, who has been most affected so far by these fires?

SEPULVADO: Well, right now, it's basically been people in lower-income brackets. We're seeing people who lived in mobile homes like the one I'm at. There have been at least two mobile homes that have been really, really affected, including one that - where a man named Dan Nidus (ph) was 88 years old. And he's credited with saving the majority of his mobile home because he went out and took a hose off the top of his roof to try and stop the fire. And it seems to have worked for his mobile home. Here he is saying about how the fire spread.

DAN NIDUS: There's a wooden fence that was there, and it just went right along the fence. There's a lot of vegetation. That caught on fire. And it just hopscotched all the way down - a domino effect. It was terrible.

SEPULVADO: Now, Robert, of course the fast-moving nature of this fire which Dan was just talking about is one of the big reasons that Governor Jerry Brown says this fire is hard to contain.


JERRY BROWN: This is really serious. It's moving fast. The heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse.

SIEGEL: That's California Governor Jerry Brown describing the challenge facing firefighting operations in California. John, tell us about the extent of those operations now.

SEPULVADO: It's been the most bizarre thing. And actually, you know, when you first started the conversation, I was really surprised because we saw a fire truck actually roll into this mobile home. I have not seen that in the two hours I've been here. There are so few firefighters, and there are so many fires.

And mind you, there are hundreds of firefighters in the Bay Area right now. But it is not enough to combat these fires, so they're deciding that some structures just have to simply burn. It's a surprising thing to see firefighters in areas where you can actually travel in. There are much - even larger fires just north of here, and it's just a absolute mess to look at.

SIEGEL: Sounds just terrible. That's reporter John Sepulvado reporting from Sonoma County, Calif. John, thanks.

SEPULVADO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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