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Why The California Wildfires Are So Hard To Contain


Let's turn now to Brian Rice. He's the president of the California Professional Firefighters union, and he has been traveling back and forth between the major wildfires burning throughout the state. Yesterday he was in Southern California, in Malibu, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks. And today he's up north and on the line with us from Paradise, Calif. Welcome.

BRIAN RICE: Hi. Thank you.

CHANG: How are things going today? I mean, how much progress have firefighters been able to make?

RICE: They - you know, the fire's approximately staying at about 120,000 acres. The weather is beginning to cooperate, which is very, very important. There's still some wind coming out of an area called the Jarbo Gap. I guess the best way to say it - it's natural, and it's expected. The good thing is that it's probably around the 12-, 13-mile-an-hour range, relatively mild compared to what it was over the weekend and when the fire started.

CHANG: The last several days I know have been tremendously challenging for all the teams out there. What are you hearing from firefighters on the front lines? I mean, how long can they keep this up?

RICE: You know, I'm going to say this first. God bless Mayor Jones and every resident in Paradise. As to the firefighters, they began to get rest periods. They worked, you know, the initial parts of this fire just saving lives. They're getting rest periods. And I can tell you that hearing the mayor and seeing the community, it energizes them because that's part of the nature of being a firefighter - is wanting to help. There's no failure here. We got a fire. We're going to get this thing as safe as we can get it, and we're going to do everything that we're allowed to do to help this community get back into their town.

CHANG: I understand that some of the firefighters you've spoken with - they've lost their own homes in these fires.

RICE: The count right now, we have 52 members that have lost their homes...


RICE: ...In the Paradise area. We've set up relief to help them, but they've not left the line. They may have, you know, one or two here and there. But number one, they're committed to Paradise. They're committed to protect California. I was a firefighter for 30 years. I'm in awe of the men and women on the job in the city of Paradise.

CHANG: And while they've been battling these fires, I want to ask you about President Trump's response. He's blamed these massive fires on poor forest management. He even temporarily threatened to withhold federal money unless that changed. You have called his remarks dangerously wrong. Explain what you mean.

RICE: I - and I will. I want to kind of steer away from it, but I'll say this. The president did give the declaration for the disaster, and that's a very good thing.

CHANG: That's right.

RICE: And we all have to be very appreciative of that, and we are. So this morning as I was leaving the Malibu - the Woolsey Fire, driving down highway 118 - to give you an idea of the ferocity of the fire, which is the same up here in Paradise, that fire jumped essentially a 12-lane freeway, and it was only grass. When you are in the seventh year of a drought and both (unintelligible) and dead fuel moistures are at all-time lows, it's a recipe for disaster. And if you get a fire going in those conditions, you're not going to stop it.

And to say there's no reason to have fires like this, you know, in what the first part of that tweet said, is just - but I think now is the time that we get Paradise on the road to recovery. My focus is the firefighters and the community. I can't control what he tweets. It's probably not going to be the last time.

CHANG: That's Brian Rice from Paradise, Calif. Thank you very much.

RICE: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.