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Winds Continue To Drive California Fires

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

California's governor, Jerry Brown, is asking for a presidential emergency declaration for the Southern California fires that are continuing to spread. The largest is burning in Ventura County, about an hour northwest of LA. It is massive. About 115,000 acres have burned so far. Reporter Mary Plummer from member station KPCC joins us now to talk about all of this. Hi, Mary.

MARY PLUMMER, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Thanks for coming on. So I feel like for people outside of California, they've just been seeing these stunning images and videos. Can you just give us a broad picture of what exactly is happening there?

PLUMMER: Yes. You know, we've got several different wildfires that are raging in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. There's four fires up here. There's also a new fire that's burning in northern San Diego County. That one has been very fast moving. We've still got thousands of people who've evacuated from their homes. Air quality has been a real challenge. Everyone in this area is really thinking about and dealing with these fires nonstop right now. At the moment, San Diego County has been dealing with really high winds. They're expecting gusts of up to 60 miles per hour today.

GREENE: And I guess it's worth - you say things like Los Angeles County, San Diego County. I mean, like, in LA, for example, it's not like the fires are threatening downtown, per se. But they're not that far. And people living in LA, I mean, can see these things. I mean, it looks ominous.

PLUMMER: Yes. You know, the 405, which is the main artery - one of the main freeway arteries here in LA had just massive flames that people were dealing with on their morning commute this week. You know, I was out there not too long ago. And you could still see the hot coals in the hillside there. So it's really changed the way of life here in the LA area this week. It's something that everybody's been dealing with. And, you know, evacuations have been a real factor. A lot of people have family members up in the Ventura County area, where the massive Thomas fire is burning. So it's been a challenge.

GREENE: What - have you spoken to people who've been fleeing these things?

PLUMMER: Yes. You know, we spoke with Kris Pantalone (ph). She's an ER nurse at a hospital in Ventura County, where that Thomas fire is that I just mentioned. She is dealing with, you know, a fire that's certainly the largest and has done the most damage. Hundreds of homes have been lost up there. She says she hasn't been into her home since Monday night. That's when she left for her overnight shift at the hospital. Here's what she told us.

KRIS PANTALONE: Yeah. I have four brothers and parents that live in Ojai. But again, with the winds, the evacuation areas have changed back and forth so much that we've bounced around pretty much everywhere.

GREENE: So it sounds like another thing people are dealing with is just sheer confusion.

PLUMMER: Certainly. There have been so many fires going on that it's been hard to get information, hard to stay clear on where the evacuations are happening. The fires have been really fast moving, as we've had a lot of changing wind conditions here.

GREENE: What are the biggest concerns? I mean, could these continue to grow and keep threatening more communities?

PLUMMER: You know, it looks like we're going to get a break in the winds later this afternoon and this evening. But with that said, conditions continue to be really problematic here. It's very, very dry - low humidity - no rain in the forecast. The real hope right now is that no additional fires pop up today or over the weekend. There's been a real concern about these flying embers, which can travel for, you know, up to a mile. And when these winds get heavy, we're really at risk of more fires starting.

GREENE: All right. We'll hope for the best and hope those winds do actually start to die down. Mary Plummer reports from member station KPCC in Pasadena, Calif. Mary, thanks.

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