2 Weeks In, Firefighters Battle To Save Homes From Southern California Wildfires

Dec 17, 2017
Originally published on December 19, 2017 9:34 am
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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

And we turn now to the West Coast, where the Thomas Fire continues to burn in Southern California. It may soon set the record as the largest fire in the state's history. Fourteen days in, the flames continue to burn in bone-dry, windy conditions. It's only 40 percent contained and will likely burn for days to come. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: All through the weekend, helicopters buzzed above the canyons and mountain ridges in Ventura and Santa Barbara County as firefighters battled the raging blaze below. Yesterday, the pristine coastal town of Montecito was evacuated as the fire crept closer from the foothills above.

STEVE CONCIALDI: That was some of the most intense fire yesterday, as the fire burned down those canyons. But I could tell you, we saved several hundred homes in the Montecito area.

FADEL: That's Fire Captain Steve Concialdi, a spokesman for the Thomas Fire. So far, the wildfire has displaced thousands of people, burned through an area bigger than New York City and destroyed more than 1,000 structures. On Saturday, it burned 10,000 more acres to become the third-largest in the state's history. Despite the size of the fire, only one civilian has died. She crashed her car trying to escape the fire.

But in a tragic reminder of the dangerous work these firefighters are doing, firefighter Cory Iverson was killed last week when flames fueled by the winds picked up in Fillmore, about 55 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Today, he was being honored in a procession that spanned five counties. The destination was San Diego County. He died of smoke inhalation and burns. He leaves behind a toddler and his pregnant wife. As the blaze grows, so do the number of people battling it. The spokesman, Concialdi, says there are 8,500 fire personnel working the fire, nearly 1,000 fire engines and 34 helicopters.

CONCIALDI: And this has been one of those angry fires. And it's - you know, the thought yesterday at fire camp is, like, it's enough. It's just this stubborn fire, and the theme was kill the beast. We have to kill the beast, and it's relentless.

FADEL: The fire's disrupting lives. People have lost their homes in the middle of the holiday season. Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place in the foothills of Montecito, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. And a team of firefighters is protecting the Santa Barbara Zoo. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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