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Gov. Brown Declares State Of Emergency Over California Wildfires

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In large parts of this country, a changing climate means the fire season has grown longer and longer. Here we are just at the start of the summer, and firefighters in Northern California are battling blazes that have consumed more than 10,000 acres so far. Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. The largest fire is the Pawnee fire in Lake County. And KQED's Sukey Lewis caught up with some of the residents at an evacuation center in the town of Clearlake Oaks.

SUKEY LEWIS, BYLINE: Around 300 people and their pets are camped out here in tents and cots at The Moose Lodge, an informal evacuation center. Charles Valdez and his girlfriend Lois Savin made it out of their house, with their blue-and-gold macaw, just ahead of the flames.

CHARLES VALDEZ: About midnight, 1 o'clock, we saw the flames coming over the hill at us.

LOIS SAVIN: I remembered my toothbrush and my toothpaste (laughter). But it was like, OK, got to rush - you know, first thing, get my medications.

VALDEZ: Not our first rodeo with an evacuation.

LEWIS: Not their first rodeo because Lake County, which is about two hours northeast of San Francisco, has been hit by devastating wildfires for the past four years running. Fire is a fact of life for people up in this rural mountainous region of Northern California. The steep hillsides here are covered in oak and pine trees. And the high summer temperatures mean any small spark can cause a blaze.

VALDEZ: We knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when. And we didn't get a lot of rain this winter, and everything was pretty dry.

LEWIS: This time, Valdez and Savin weren't so lucky. They say their home burned to the ground. Valdez is a renter without insurance. But he says he plans to stay in Lake County. It's his home. Fire officials say they are concerned to see this kind of fire activity so early in the summer. Here's Cal Fire Captain Amy Head.

AMY HEAD: It is concerning and a bit worrisome to see a fire burn the way that it did for this time of year - for June. Numbers and the statistics are sort of lining up to similar to last year, which was, as everyone knows, the worst fire season in the history of California. So it could be a very long fire season for us.

LEWIS: Head says they hope to get more containment soon as the weather pattern shifts to cooler temperatures and higher humidity midweek. For NPR News, I'm Sukey Lewis in Lake County, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sukey Lewis
Sukey Lewis is a criminal justice reporter and host of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. In 2018, she co-founded the California Reporting Project, a coalition of newsrooms across the state focused on obtaining previously sealed internal affairs records from law enforcement. In addition to her reporting on police accountability, Lewis has investigated the bail bonds industry, California's wildfires and the high cost of prison phone calls. Lewis earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.
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