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California Wildfires: Your Questions Answered

 July 15, 2021 at 9:59 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 From the coast to Southern California through the central valley, up towards the north state, we share a common thread. It's a constant risk of wildfires. In recent years. Each season is redefining his story. Speaker 2: 00:18 There's the very real possibility that we could surpass last year by a significant amount, Speaker 1: 00:24 Smoldering communities, vast devastation, and the irreplaceable loss of life. We are faced with hard lessons Speaker 3: 00:31 Just because the fire happened two and a half years ago. Doesn't mean that we're okay. So Speaker 1: 00:36 We turn to you and ask, what are your most pressing wildfire questions? What Speaker 4: 00:40 Are the health impacts of fire season and the consistent bad air Speaker 1: 00:45 Quality bringing in experts across the state? Speaker 4: 00:48 How can we reduce fuels, but improve forest health, simultaneous Speaker 1: 00:52 I'm Vicky Gonzalez. That's all coming up on this special broadcast, California wildfires. Your questions answered from CAPP radio in Sacramento. This is California wildfires. Your questions answered. I'm your host Vicky Gonzalez. We're in the midst of an ominous wildfire season. Yet again, nearly four times. The number of acres have burned so far this year compared to the same time last year. And we all know 2020 was a setting I covered many of California's most devastating wildfires as a reporter from the tubs, Atlas and nuns, fire and wine country, the car fire and Redding, the Woolsey fire jumping highway 1 0 1 in Southern California, the campfire in Butte county and the relentless lightning complex wildfires of 2020 that burned the central valley up through the coast to the north state. Collectively, we have the fresh memory of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in state history. On top of mind, not to mention severe drought plaguing the state, the goal this hour, however, is to go beyond all of that anxiety and offer solutions and knowledge that we can apply to our own lives by listening and answering listener questions from across the state. Speaker 1: 02:10 First, let's bring in reporters with NPR stations across California. Scott rod is with CAPP radio in Sacramento, Kailey Wells with KCRW and Jacob Margolis with KPCC in Las. And they are both in Southern California. Thank you all for joining us well, before we get to listener questions, let's begin with the reality that there are more than a dozen active wildfires. As I speak from the south to the Northern borders of the state, the largest so far this year is the Beckworth complex fires and Plumas and Lassen counties. That's about an hour north of lake Tahoe. Scott, let's bring you in. You are currently on the front lines of the sugar fire, which is part of the Beckworth complex fires. It's already destroyed several structures in the mountain town of Doyle. What is the signal for communities across California? Speaker 5: 03:01 Well, the community of Doyle is no stranger to fires. Uh, you know, they've seen fires come through here. Uh, they're they're next to this, you know, the next several hillsides and mountains that, you know, the wind just tears down through it every afternoon. And so that's sort of, uh, an accelerant for fires when they spark. However, uh, you know, this fire, this fire was, was different than past fires. That's what folks who I talked to said, they said this fire moved quicker, burned more intensely and burned up much, many more acres than past fires. Um, and, and, and the sense that I'm getting is that there's a different attitude now towards fire. Um, they've seen it before, but not like this. And, uh, you know, the, the, the Testament to the intensity of these fires or the number of the homes that have burned down in this small community. Speaker 1: 03:52 Well, Scott, you spoke with John bull. He is a Doyle resident and has seen many wildfires around his home. You were just talking about that his area was under evacuation orders when you spoke with him. So let's listen to some of what he had to say. We're Speaker 6: 04:05 Under were evacuated. Now we're just, uh, we're just not leaving him or just staying here. So we just don't go anywhere we see around on our property, you feel pretty comfortable kind of holding it down. Um, yeah, despite the order in place. Well, there's no fire and there's no firetrucks. So there I don't, I mean, nobody else seems to calculate this as much of a risks. Um, I guess, yeah, maybe I should say, uh, before, when the fire was here. Well, when the fire was here, there was four fire trucks parked in our yard. So that was kind of comforting and yeah, and they didn't actually, the fire never got this far. Speaker 1: 04:44 All right. There's a lot of, kind of calmness in his voice considering there's a wildfire burning in his community. What did the surrounding area look like? And can you explain a little bit more why he's so comfortable staying in his home despite an active evacuation order in place? Speaker 5: 04:59 Sure. So the area immediately around him was not touched by the fire. The winds were blowing in a different direction and as they came down the hillside where his home is located, um, it, it, it moved a bit slower and it stopped pretty far from his property. So that's why he was saying that he felt comfortable. And right now there, isn't an active fire line here. Um, uh, on the soil side, uh, I spoke to him yesterday and right now it's more so, um, a matter of containment and making sure that there aren't any smaller spot fires that pop up, um, uh, you know, re reading into why he appeared to be so calm. I think it's a couple things. Um, one, um, simply he actually, uh, worked for a number of years for the Sheriff's department. So he says he's seen fires before. He feels confident knowing how they, how they can change and how they can, um, um, you know, the dangers that they pose. Um, but also in general, the community up here, um, there's a pretty strong of individuality up here. Um, people move here to, um, enjoy their privacy and to enjoy being around nature. Um, and so it's a community that is very self-reliant. And so I think that's coming through in, in, in what Sean had to say in terms of staying despite the evacuation order. Speaker 1: 06:17 Well, without let's bring in our first listener question from the central valley, Speaker 3: 06:21 My name is Robbie van Arsdale. I've just moved to Fresno from Missouri, where we have a very different relationship to fire. So I'm curious, how are fires in the wilderness usually discovered and reported? And how long is the lag between ignition and report? Speaker 1: 06:37 So Kaylee, with your experience covering wildfires in Southern California, what have you been able to gather when it comes to those initial moments in response? Well, in the initial moments, it depends on how it was reported. A lot of these, we get from satellites from NASA, sometimes we're hearing 9 1, 1 calls. Sometimes one of my colleagues is actually a fire lookout. So he has a job of staying in a tall tower and staring at the Angeles national forest all day and seeing if there's any smoke. So those are usually how you're getting reports, but in terms of how quickly you're seeing a response, it, it really varies on the fire. It depends on where it sparked or how strong the winds are that day or how dry it is, even if it's just moving uphill or downhill makes a big difference. So sometimes it's moving so fast, you don't get an evacuation notice and that's when you get those more deadly situations like we saw in paradise. Speaker 1: 07:26 But, you know, growing up, I grew up near the Santa Monica mountains. It's a very flammable part of Los Angeles county. Uh, I remember the one time we were under an evacuation notice, we watched the fire burn on TV for several days and then spent an afternoon packing our car before we were put under mandatory evacuation. So it really depends on so many factors about how quickly you get people out of there. Jacob, this is a good opportunity to talk about when to evacuate, because we got a lot of questions about this as well. You know, when to grab your go bag and actually what to put in that go-bag. Speaker 6: 07:59 Yeah, I mean, I would be ready to evacuate before they tell you to evacuate because power could go out. Uh, cell service could be down for any reason. Uh, but also in that go bag, throw in a first aid kit, emergency weather, radio food, water blankets, some backup clothes, important papers. Uh, if you lose everything, uh, you're gonna potentially need the deed to your house or insurance documents to show, uh, FEMA or other agencies to, in order to recoup, uh, what you did loss or help you recoup some what you lost and obviously any sort of medicine you have to take and pet supplies you might need. I mean, think of the absolute essentials, uh, and for those important papers, you can also scan them and keep them in the cloud. So you have them as backup. That's something we recommend for earthquakes too. Speaker 1: 08:43 You're listening to California, wildfires. Your questions answered from CAPP radio in Sacramento. I'm your host, Vicky Gonzalez. If you're just joining us, we got a question from a listener in Fresno, Matt, we're going to a bigger picture. Look at all the different threats of wildfire across the state. I took the drive up to Butte county. That's about an hour and a half north of Sacramento, and caught up with a firefighter who just got back home from what is already a very busy wildfire season. Sean Norman is a battalion chief with Cal fire has more than 30 years of experience battling wildfires across California. So with that level of perspective, let's take a listen to his overarching concerns. This year, I worked Speaker 2: 09:23 In the bay area. I've worked in the north bay and Sonoma and Napa county lake county. And now I've been here in Butte county for 20 going on 21 years. I think when I look back on my career, I will all the other things that happened while they were significant. It's only been in the last since 2016, 17 here locally. It just really took it to another level that I don't even have a word to describe when I'm off duty, not wearing my uniform. I have serious concerns about what's coming based on the metrics that we're seeing last year. We, we burned a record number of acres in California, 4 million acres going through everyone's minds is how, how much worse can it get? Um, and there's the very real possibility that we could surpass last year by a significant amount. Speaker 1: 10:15 Jacob, when you listen to battalion chief Norman, how does that align with conversations you're having in Southern California? Speaker 6: 10:21 Yeah, I mean, I don't know a California who pays attention to this stuff. Who's not wondering just how bad things are going to get, you know, this year in Southern California, especially, we're really waiting for those Santa Ana winds to kick in, uh, you know, in September. And we'll just have to hold onto our hats until hopefully winter or rain. Something comes along to make things a bit wetter. Uh, so the fire risk, you know, uh, decline, it gets, uh, lessens a bit, but, um, you know, looking forward in terms of how much worse is it going to get in the future? I mean, I'm not, I don't feel too optimistic personally about that. I think it'll be consistently pretty bad in terms of fire and something that we're going to have to learn to live with in many different ways, in terms of climate. Speaker 6: 11:03 Obviously it's getting hotter, which means things are likely to dry out early in the year, persistent droughts have left our landscapes parched ready to burn more often. And then on a societal level, we're dealing with things like, uh, how to respond, how do you respond to certain fires? Do you let certain fires burn? Do you decide to protect certain structures? Do we continue to build in places that burn and you know, even bigger questions like how we, how do we stop human caused ignitions? You know, I think we have an awful lot of questions that we have to answer as a society that we need to work on. And, uh, I'm, I'm interested to see definitely the next few years and kind of decisions that we decide to Speaker 1: 11:37 Make. Yeah, Scott, given that you're currently joining us from a wildfire in Northern California, this isn't your first wildfire of this season. What are fire crews telling you? Speaker 5: 11:48 They're saying very similar things to the battalion chief, um, that, that we just heard, uh, the fires this year and in recent years, um, you know, they're, they're in a magnitude, um, more intense in, in, in just different than past years. Um, you know, they're, they're talking about sort of wrestling with a different kind of wildfire season than we've seen before. Um, you know, we're already starting to see, um, fire crews being pulled from different parts of the state to help out make sure that certain areas are covered or that, um, you know, there's adequate crews to be working these fires. Some, some crews are being pulled from out of state and that kind of hearkens back to what we saw last year, where crews were just absolutely worked. Non-stop, you know, bouncing from one fire to another Speaker 1: 12:35 Scott rod with cap radio, joining us from Lassen county at the site of the largest wildfire. So far this year, the Beckworth complex fires. Well with that up next, we can't talk about wildfires without also discussing climate change. A scientist at the forefront of El Nino LA Nina and drought across California joins us. And we tackle more listener concerns about the impacts of wildfire smoke, capable of traveling, hundreds of miles away. You're listening to California wildfires. Your questions answered on your NPR station, okay. From CAPP radio in Sacramento, this is California wildfires. Your questions answered. I'm your host Vicky Gonzalez. If you're just joining us, we're going deeper into how this wildfire season is poised to rival record setting years, as well as how to cope with the seemingly inescapable consequence of hazardous air quality. Let's bring in climatologists, Dr. William pat cert, based in Southern California, bill retired from NASA jet propulsion laboratory following a 35 year career. And to this day is still often called the prophet of California climate at the forefront of climate change and water issues. Dr. PetSmart joins us now welcome. Oh, hi Ricky. Well, wildfire season starting earlier ending later, that's no surprise. The state estimated it's increased by 75 days with your expertise in hindsight, studying California's climate. How are you viewing what is already a busy start to the season? Speaker 7: 14:29 Well, maybe it's good to start with a history lesson. You know, the history of the rest is written in great droughts and great fires. If there's anything that's really characteristic about California, it's the fire state. It's the drought state. Now over the last 70 years, human behavior has change these natural events. Fire is actually good for the ecosystem. All right, but we've turned it into an environmental and climate crisis that certainly out of control and is a nightmare. And, uh, w how, how did this come about? Well, over the last 70 years, three fundamental, uh, behaviors have changed Southern California and Northern California starting in the 1950s. We started fighting forest fires. Now that sounds good. But before that, you have to remember a fire is a very natural part of the ecosystem. Fire is good for the forest when smokey, the bear showed up and stopped us from fighting forest fires, the forest became overgrown, all right? And they became loaded with fuel. And it's built over the last 70 years at the same time. The second element in the equation is, is that the population of California has quadrupled since the 1950s. There's more of us in the search for affordable housing. We have moved into fire zones, the interface between the wild lines of the great forest and the urban suburban areas. And so fundamentally we moved into areas that historically have always burned. And of course you put people together with fuel. So the equation is pretty simple. People equal fire. Speaker 1: 16:34 Well, well, on that note, let's move to, to listener concerns, highlighting a big impact of these wildfires, that whether you've lived through a wildfire or breed than the smoke from hundreds of miles away, we all brace for the consequences that we've just come to know all too well. Speaker 8: 16:50 My name is Lockman fan. My husband and I lived in San Jose last year, when many wildfires broke outs, although we are not endangered by the actual fires, the smoke was really intense. It is inside of our apartment as well. No matter where we go, we can smell it for full week. We couldn't open a window until the air clear up outside this year. We're in a severe drought. And I'm definitely worried about the repeat of wildfires. Like last year, the situation is getting worse. Is there anything we can do to stop it, or at least reduced it? My name Speaker 4: 17:33 Is Kelly Sweeney, and I live in Gardena, California. My biggest concern living in suburban urban California is what are the health impacts of fire season and the consistent bad air quality, particularly to young kids who are growing up with unhealthy air annually, Speaker 1: 17:53 Dr. Pat Patsy, should we be preparing for the reality for more smoky air in California is just part of our future. Speaker 7: 18:00 The fire season, historically in Southern, Northern California, started in the fall and ran through the winter the time of what we call Santa Ana or Diablo winds, but now it's year round. It's more serious, it's more widespread. And it is a serious health hazard. These particles from the fire can have a big impact, especially on young children and people with respiratory problems. And, and so, uh, we've, uh, instead of having it just in the fall, we've lived with it all year round now. And, uh, unfortunately the listener's question is right on it's up and down the state it's serious, and you have to do some sort of a protection for those that can afford and have air conditioning. Of course, that's the obvious solution. Kaylee, Speaker 1: 18:51 What discussions are taking place in regards to air quality? Well, I mean, you know, living in California air quality is the discussion is oldest time, especially in Southern California, there's always smog, but you're right with wildfire smoke, that's gotten a lot worse. And so the big concern I've heard recently is the problem of inequity. You know, in wildfires we hear what are the best protections, close your windows, open your air conditioning, use your air purifier. Well, what if you don't have all of those things or what if you work outside all day? And so as wildfires get worse, there's going to have to be a big consideration of how to protect those people. And also as they get worse, there's also the health impacts and the cost of those, because we've already seen the link between air pollution and certain health conditions and some of those same health conditions. And for example, a increased risk to dying of COVID-19. So those problems are already really visible now. And the increased problems with air quality that wildfires bring are just making those situations all the more pressing Jacob with that in mind, what can people do on the front end to prepare and reduce the, these adverse health impacts? Speaker 6: 20:03 Yeah, uh, I, I point out also that the risk of stroke goes through the roof, um, and incidents like COPD and asthma too. Um, you know, we're going to have to deal with the smoke, whether it's major wildfires or prescribed burns, like we're, we're going to have to deal with it on some level, uh, in my home. And this is going to be different in every home. Uh, we actually put plastic sheeting over certain vent. We live in an old house over certain vents that just basically open to the outside when wildfires do come so that we can keep the smoke out. And we've also, uh, we dug into our savings and bought air purifiers for almost every single room, which, uh, was seemingly expensive, but really important, especially because I have two young kids. And we do know that there are, uh, potential health impacts, um, for children and babies in utero as well. Speaker 1: 20:52 Right. You're listening to California wildfires. Your questions answered from CAPP radio in Sacramento. I'm your host, Vicky Gonzalez. And if you're just joining us, we're answering your questions across the state. We're still months away from what is historically the most concerning months for wild land fires and my conversation with Cal fire battalion chief, Sean Norman, with more than 30 years of wildfire experience, he describes how fire seasons have grown, especially concerning in recent years, I started Speaker 2: 21:21 When I was 15. Um, and as I'm an Explorer firefighter, and that was in 1986. So when I think about my career, I really look at it as almost two careers. There was everything up until about, I would say maybe 2006 or seven, and then there's been everything after that. And so that time period up to about there was what 2006 or seven was what I would consider our old fire season that lasted, you know, middle of June till October 31st. And then we were done and we'd have a few St Ana wind-driven fires. The metrics that we use have changed so much in my career, the changing climate, you cannot turn your back or dismiss it and say, this isn't a thing because as someone who's on the forefront of it, it is, and I've seen it change in my career. Not just my lifetime, 50 years, I've been on the earth, but in my career, I've seen it change. Speaker 1: 22:23 Dr. Pat cert, chief Norman is really confirming what I would think a lot of climate climatologists and firefighters, even just people who've lived in California for decades are feeling what stands out to you about what he's saying and what more can we learn from this? Speaker 7: 22:39 Well, of course the biggest element in the equation here that affects not only fire, but much of the environment and public health is climate change. We're living in a warmer drier, California. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 50%. The world is warmer. California is warmer, heat waves are more intense, they're longer, they're more frequent. And they're more punishing as we've seen here over the last couple of months, the rainfall season in California starts later. It ends earlier. So the dry season is prolonged. And so the fuel load in the national forest, in the wildfire zones, they're dryer, all right, the heat is earlier. And so these fires are burning more intensely. They're easier to light. All right. And they're more difficult to extinguish. So the largest element in the equation, again, is us it's climate change. So listen to the scientist, the only way to remediate these great fires is to decrease, or at least slow down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Speaker 7: 24:05 We have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. And the way we do that is we have to be very careful who we vote for, right. Climate change is serious, and it's having a huge impact on the fires in the west. So it's just common sense. We have to vote for people that are going to decrease the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, legislate more intelligent forestry practices, and in the areas that are dangerous to fires, we have to be more careful about where we build and how we build. All right. So this is on us Speaker 1: 24:49 And we're going to get into rebuilding and later on in the hour, but let's bring in another listener question. This is from the Sierra Nevada foothills and Eldorado county, and the reason important issue, wildfire prevention and the environment. Hello, my name Speaker 4: 25:04 Is Sean Dunkley and I live in Coloma. I'm concerned that fuel reduction measures will lead to deforestation and be taken advantage of by logging and timber industries. How can we reduce fuels, but improve forest health simultaneously, and what agencies are responsible for balancing commercial interests and those of healthy ecosystems. Thank Speaker 1: 25:24 You, Dr. Pat, what solutions are being discussed that we can apply right now, you know, when, especially when talking about the balance of prevention and protecting the environment. Speaker 7: 25:34 Well, uh, of course, uh, it would be great to reduce the fuel loads with prescribed burns up and down the state of California. Unfortunately, we're a little late because we've let so many people move into these fire zones. All right. Uh, in some of these unincorporated areas, it becomes difficult for the fire people to, uh, do these prescribed burns. And of course there is the, uh, the pressure of economic interest in some of these rural areas, logging interests. But the fact is is that when these great forest or wild lands burn, naturally when they come back, they come back healthier. And, uh, so this is, uh, a topic of, uh, a hot topic about, uh, logging versus natural burns and, uh, all the experts. And I'm not an expert on this, are there in heated discussions. Speaker 1: 26:36 Yeah. Jacob, when talking about, depending on who you talk to, um, there would be varying opinions of what the overarching threats and, and causes are to the intensifying wildfire season. But is this a concern you're hearing about when it comes to balancing wildfire prevention and protecting the environment or any solutions being discussed from your end? Speaker 6: 26:58 Yeah. You know, I, I just think I'll echo what bill said. Um, you know, uh, prescribed burns are absolutely crucial, uh, at this point to help restore healthy ecosystems throughout the state. Now, there are certain ecosystems in our state that it is not completely clear that a whole bunch of prescribed burns are going to, uh, fix them up, like in Chaparral and coastal Sage scrub ecosystems. Um, uh, I've seen, heard there's the decent debate around that that said, uh, you know, certain possible mechanical, uh, removal of, um, in the, in the Chaparral ecosystems of certain vegetation might help, uh, lessens some of the fire risks. But if we're talking about increasing the health of the ecosystem as a whole, you know, let's go back to that idea of prescribed burns and practices. And one thing we're starting to see more of is the utilization of indigenous burning practices led by experts from tribes across the state. It seems to be an absolutely fantastic move and, uh, would like to see that increase at a very, very, very bad. Speaker 1: 28:04 Yeah. And that's such a great point talking about bringing in, um, fuel reduction and really with the reality that California has such a diverse terrain. So you're based in Southern California, Scott you're in Northern California. What fuel reduction measures are, are happening up there and, and being discussed up in Northern California? Speaker 5: 28:24 Well, their ambitious goals, uh, frankly across the state, um, for wildfire, uh, for, for wild land vegetation treatment, obviously, um, as Jacob said, it will look different in Southern California versus Northern California. Um, but the state is aiming to, uh, treat 500,000 acres per year and have the federal government match that number. And they want to do that through prescribed burns through a mechanical thinning you'll breaks. And frankly, we're a ways off from that. Um, and so it's an ambitious target El fire, frankly, doesn't have the capacity to do that right now. So lawmakers and other experts are talking about ways to really ramp up the state's capacity and ability to reach that goal. Speaker 1: 29:08 What are the biggest issues when it comes to challenging the capacity and these ambitious goals that they're, that they're trying to implement Speaker 5: 29:17 A big piece of the debate is the workforce right now, the folks who are doing the prevention work largely are also the ones who get called up to go fight the fires when they break out. So something that we're seeing is this sort of tug of war between folks who were doing the prevention. And then once fire season is in full swing, you know, they have to go fight the fires. And so there's a conversation right now talking about to split those responsibilities, have a workforce that's solely dedicated to doing the prevention work so that when fires are happening, that prevention work can still continue. Uh, while the suppression efforts are ongoing, Speaker 1: 29:55 Given that you are reporting from wildfire and you've already reported on other wildfires this year, what are residents doing on their, on the individual and to, for fuel breaks and their own defensible space? Speaker 5: 30:09 That's, uh, something that doesn't a message to Cal fire, uh, hits on often is, you know, individual homeowners can do a lot to ensure that their homes are protected and yeah. Defensible space, um, home hardening. So that includes things like clearing out, brush, clearing out, um, any sort of bed, vegetation or vegetation that can, um, serve to, uh, advanced a finer or act as ladder fuels. Um, and also home hardening, um, you know, anything from, um, ensuring that, uh, non-flammable or less flammable materials are used whenever possible, but also things just as simple as like clearing out your gutters. Cause that's a big way that fires start. When embers start flying. Speaker 1: 30:49 When talking with John Dole up employments county, what kind of mitigation was he doing for his property? Speaker 5: 30:57 His house was largely surrounded by green grass. That was well irrigated. And on the other side, on another side of his property, it was, um, largely dirt. Um, he did not have hedges, didn't have smaller, uh, vegetation. He had a few trees, but basically he said that we, he takes defensible space very seriously. As I said before, this area is no stranger to fire. He's seen fires come through. And so he definitely believes in subscribes to this idea that the state has a certain responsibility, but individual homeowners have, uh, have a sort of end of the bargain to hold up as well. Speaker 1: 31:31 Right? Well, we've touched upon this topic, but we're going to dive in deeper to it up next, rebuilding after wild fires is still taking place for many wildfire survivors over the last several years. And there are challenges along the way we will hear from survivors riding out the tough road to recovery. We'll also speak with a researcher who shares lessons learned from rebuilding in wooey zones. Those are wildfire prone areas. Plus we'll round out the hour with more solutions to listener questions. You're listening to California wildfires. Your questions answered on your NPR station. Speaker 9: 32:28 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 32:33 From CAPP radio in Sacramento. This is California wildfires. Your questions answered I'm your host Gonzalez wildfires are burning right now. And survivors are still rebuilding. We're going to start in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in 2017. The Thomas fire was the largest wildfire in the state burning more than 280,000 acres destroying over a thousand homes, businesses, and other properties, Doug marjoram among those survivors. And he joins us now. Thank you so much for joining us, Doug, Doug, you lost your property in 2017, you began rebuilding. Then you had a devastating consequence with the burn scar where you reside a mudslide. About a month later, you even talk about a gas explosion. How do you reflect on that tumultuous time? Speaker 10: 33:22 Uh it's it's like those, um, uh, television programs where they add something to you, you least expect. And the gas explosion was just, just totally apocalyptical. It just was amazing that it even occurred. Um, yeah, we did get the double whammy. The Thomas fire came in and burned around our house and damaged our house, uh, not extensively, but it kept us out of the house for at least a month. We returned, uh, after 30 days. And we're immediately asked to evacuate again because of the danger of, uh, incoming, uh, uh, rainstorm, they thought might flood the area. And, you know, I would have been Santa Barbara for most of my life and whenever they say it's going to rain, I don't believe them. So, uh, we, we didn't really feel that a good rate to such a degree, but, uh, the resulting, uh, mud mud flow and debris flow in Boulder, uh, a situation that came down from the just burned mountain side was, was devastating. Speaker 10: 34:23 Uh, so we got a double way when we had the fire issues and then we have the, the debris flow, which jumped the banks of the San Ysidro Creek. And, uh, uh, we had mud and, and, uh, water all all through our home. And our backyard was completely swept, swept down. The in fact, you know, we were lucky, uh, we were in the mandatory evacuation zone. We probably should have evacuated in hindsight, obviously. Uh, but most of our neighbors didn't, it didn't seem as pressing as when they evacuated us for fire, which was, you know, which was advancing at a very rapid clip. It just, it just didn't seem most of my neighbors didn't didn't leave either, uh, unbelievably. Most of the deaths that occurred in that event were in the, uh, not mandatory evacuation zone at all of the deaths. Uh, every, it sort of just swept right by us, but once it got down into the flatter, uh, parts of Montecito, it spread out and, and took homes and people, uh, uh, away with it. Speaker 10: 35:24 Um, so, you know, it was it's, uh, it was interesting insurance wise that we, we, uh, we had flood insurance, which doesn't cover a bot. We have fire insurance, which covers, uh, everything. And even though our host was very little damaged by fire, but it was almost destroyed by the, by the flood. But the powers that be, which was, which was great, our insurance commissioner declared that the only reason we had the flood was because of the fire. And we were able to use you to fall back on our fire insurance and be well-covered for, for that event. Speaker 1: 35:57 What advice do you have for those who will be in similar shoes, faced with rebuilding, figuring out the next chapter in their lives? Speaker 10: 36:05 Well, you get through it. It's amazing that you do. Uh, I, I couldn't talk about it without crying, which is really helpful after almost three years, uh, over three years, excuse me. Uh, Jacob's uh, advice was really good about what to do to get ready and to have, have stuff we were not prepared. And, and, uh, even though we, we should have been, uh, to have the stuff that we needed to bring with us and, and needed to be out of our home for the amount of time we were out of our home. Um, and just listen, listen to what, what people are telling you to do. Uh, you know, just can't imagine it until it actually happens. Uh, obviously the gas explosion was an extra credit that no one expected and, uh, but in, but in fact it, the, the light from the, from the gas burning into the, into the atmosphere, uh, actually helped us escape the flood. And it actually helped us pick up people and, and, and help other people on our way out as we were running for running away from it. Speaker 1: 37:07 I really appreciate you finding a silver lining and everything that you experienced during that ordeal. Kaylee, Doug is far from alone. You've been keeping in touch with wildfire survivors from the Thomas fire, the Woolsey fire in Southern California. What are you hearing about the rebuilding process? Well, a lot of it is similar to what Doug said. I mean, I think a lot of his experiences is common. I've spoken with Thomas fire victims though, who aren't, as far as he has, maybe they're struggling just to getting the permits to rebuild in their space. And that's obviously happening with Wolf Woolsey, fire victims too, who aren't even living in their new homes yet, or maybe they're just living on RVs on their plot of land, waiting for things to start. Because when you're dealing with trying to get the attention of the people who are approving permits, or architects or construction companies, along with thousands of all of your closest neighbors, you have a big problem of imbalance with supply and demand. Speaker 1: 38:05 And then of course, there's the problem with lacking insurance or being under insured that maybe you bought a home 30 years ago and the price of the home went up significantly and you haven't updated your insurance policy. And then the home burns down and you don't have enough money to replace your home. So there's so many reasons that make this take so much longer than when you're sitting in an evacuation center and you're talking to a recent fire victim who says, we'll build back bigger and stronger. It turns out that it's significantly harder than even they realize at the very beginning, we're going to turn out to the 2018 campfire that actually started the same time as the Woolsey fire in Southern California, the campfire, the deadliest wildfire in state history, consuming the towns of paradise and surrounding communities. Stephen Murray moved back to paradise and like many there and many other wildfire survivors across the state are still rebuilding years later. A Speaker 3: 39:00 Lot of people are struggling still if it's with building cost or getting a loan or even employment, you know, right now, if you're not in the construction field, it's hard to work in paradise. So right now, most of the homes that are going into remanufactured homes, it's real easy to, to level your lot, bring in some gravel and put a home on there. But right now it's about a year. It was wait too, if you want to order a home and have it delivered, it's about a year out. So the, you know, the cost of building, I talked to my mortgage company loan company today, and, uh, $300 a square foot, basically what the square footage of a home is being rebuilt up here. And, uh, I did an owner builder, so my house didn't cost that much, but I'm still battling, um, employment, uh, is tough up here in paradise. And so, uh, yeah, just going through the motions. Speaker 1: 39:49 Well, with all of that in mind, let's bring in Dr. Karen chapel and urban planning professor at UC Berkeley co author of a report recently released urging the state to rethink rebuilding and wildfire prone areas. Dr. Chappell joins us now. Welcome. Thanks for having me. Your research studied three communities that we were just talking about recently affected by wildfires, the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, the campfire in paradise, the Thomas fire in Ventura, explain how state and local housing and building policies combined with the fire risk to make these wildfires so devastating. Speaker 11: 40:26 Well in California, we have an affordable housing crisis and we have a climate crisis, and they're basically on a collision course. So people to find affordable housing move far out on the periphery. Um, we in the state subsidize that we make it easy to build new housing out on the periphery in the ex-urban areas. We make it expensive and hard wood, lots of impact fees to build in the urban areas. So it makes sense to find your affordable housing, you have to move out, but then you're putting yourselves in these very same areas in the wild land, urban interface that are very much more at risk than ever before, because of, because of global warming, because of, of, uh, unprecedented cycling cycle of warming that we're in. So, so we're going to have to stop rebuilding it over and over in these places. And, um, it, it, it would be incredibly expensive. Uh, if we continue building out in these areas to replace, uh, all of that housing, we're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars to replace all of it. So we need to be, we need to have some more preventative land use policies. Speaker 1: 41:42 Well, let's bring in a listener question show Kawanna from Sacramento asks. Is there any proposed policy or steps the state government is taking to reduce home-building in fire prone areas, Dr. Chappell, what can California do differently? What discussions, if any solutions are being discussed about this issue? Speaker 11: 42:02 Well, the state is already taking proactive measures to encourage home hardening as, as folks have talked about already. So there's 500 billion this year for that, uh, from the state. Now the state insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara has also proposed that we should have a better models. We should assess risk better. We should have higher premiums for insurance in some of these dangerous areas. And then we should stop building our infrastructure out there to discourage, uh, building out there or banning of building out there altogether. So those are two big things to start. Um, we also want to take, uh, we want to listen to folks like Doug and, and the man from Doyle that spoke to us who really want to stay in their community, right? And so many California are just not gonna move out. So what can we do to, you know, to help people stay? Our research showed that 90% of folks are coming back to the communities after fire. So we, we need to build back better in a way that is, is safer. And, uh, there's some great research showing that if we could only build, um, in nodes, denser, walkable nodes, a more resilient, uh, type of building form w but surrounded with a green buffer that can act as a firebreak. And there's folks working on that in paradise right now, as a proposal, Speaker 1: 43:30 You're listening to California, wildfires, your questions answered from CAPP radio in Sacramento. I'm your host Vicky Gonzalez. We're going to close this hour long, special offering more solutions to listener questions. Jacob, this question is about safety. When options for evacuation are slim, let's take a listen. Hi, my Speaker 12: 43:49 Name is Tracy and I live in forest hill. There is one main paved road into town and alternative routes off the hill are dirt roads. My question is how to survive a fire if we were trapped on the divide, because the evacuation routes were blocked by fire or traffic. Speaker 1: 44:08 Jacob, what can someone do to prepare for the possibility of being trapped by a wildfire? Speaker 6: 44:14 Yeah. Before I say anything else I will say leave, uh, before it gets to that point, if it's an absolute, if there is any sort of remote possibility that you can, you should do that. Um, but to give your home a fighting chance, first off, make sure that you've cleared the vegetation from around it, make sure that you've prepped your home for the, of embers. That's coming for it by sealing the eaves, replacing wood decking with fire resistant material. And if it's an option, having some sort of water system that firefighters can actually access to defend your structure, if you get trapped, no, that you can potentially use your home as a shelter while the fire front passes. Uh, if you think that this might, uh, you're considering this, please talk to your local fire department about it. It's a trick or a technique that firefighters use when they are near a structure and they are trapped by encroaching flames. At times they will do this because the homes will burn slower than the vegetation surrounding them. That said you will give yourself, uh, it would be a lot of help. Please, please, please clear that vegetation around your house. Um, and when the fire front passes, they will then exit the house and then continue firefighting. Um, this is like the worst case scenario. So like I said, please prioritize leaving early and prepping your property. So the odds of your home catching on fire remain low. Speaker 1: 45:28 We also got a question about an issue that you brought up early on in the hour. Jacob Bernay Angelina survived the campfire in 2018 and then the north complex fire last year, both were in Butte county. Her concern involves power, safety, shutoffs, losing cell service, cell towers. What can people have on hand to prepare, to, to have those evacuation plans and also to stay in communication with people as in a situation as fluid and as dangerous as a wildfire? Speaker 6: 45:57 Yeah. Um, you know, assuming there is some sort of cell service, people can sign up for alerts to tell them, to get out as soon as possible. A lot of local emergency management agencies have those so search for your local county or city, um, city ones, but assuming everything goes out, uh, make sure you have a lined up or battery powered emergency radio, know which channels you need to look forward to emergency channels. Uh, you could buy satellite phone as well, but it's all very expensive, but if it gets to the point where the power is out, you don't know what's going on. You know, there's a possibility of the fire front coming your way, like just sleep like long in advance. You know, I would rather feel dumb for having left and nothing having happened then like taking my family's life and my life in my own hands to kind of feel better about like, oh, did I really need to leave? So stuff is just stuff like, like you need to get out of there. Speaker 1: 46:49 Finally, we really can't discuss the toll of wildfires without also acknowledging mental health and healing from trauma. So we're going to bring back in campfire survivor, Steven Murray, about how November 8th, 2018 still impacts himself in his community. To this day, I Speaker 3: 47:04 Moved back to paradise with my family, my wife, and two kids. It feels different. You know, I was laying in bed last night in our house and I literally was like, this is a blessing to have a new home, but I just want my old house back. You know? So there's still a lot of emotions that run through through my mind and my, my daily routine, because you just, it's never going to be the same. It's, it's a different, we live in as a campfire survivor myself. Um, two and half years later, I'm still not emotionally over it. Fire does a lot of damage. And, um, that is mentally and physically. A lot of people lost our 85 people lost their lives that day. And a lot of people have passed since, uh, due to the fire stress. And there's a lot of people that have stressed themselves to the point of death. It's a tough time for everybody, but if you've lived in, you've lost everything in a fire. And, but yet you deal with PTSD and you you're trying to rebuild. There's a lot of people that, uh, that need help. And, uh, just because the fire happened two and a half years ago, doesn't mean that, that we're okay. Speaker 1: 48:14 I want to use Steven words as an opportunity for us to just share some final thoughts. What one thing will you be focusing on in the coming months and maybe years, Kaylee, let's start with you. I think a big part of this is going to be talking about that difficult time that he was just talking about it's, it's actually significantly harder than I think even people living in fire-prone areas realize to get through something like that. I mean, we obviously talk a lot about what needs to improve in California, and we're still learning how to grapple with this being a much more consistent trauma that we deal with year to year, obviously talking about insurance and how to be prepared is going to an air quality. And all of those problems are going to be can, we're going to keep talking about them, but until we figure all of that out, there's just going to be a lot of discussion about how to best support wildfire victims, because there will be more of them like him and they are going to need help. Speaker 6: 49:11 Yeah. Echoing what Kaylee said to continue off that. I think she, she put all that really well. Um, I think that people need to understand that no one is going to make them whole, even if you are within a FEMA, uh, like an area that qualifies for FEMA aid, it's not going to make you whole, you need to do preparation in advance of the fire. You need to do the stuff like clearing brush. You need to do this stuff like digitizing your records, making sure you have emergency power. If you can on either, even if it's just a battery to rent a small fridge to refrigerate your medication, um, you people need to understand that they could absolutely lose everything and their investments. And, uh, if they live in some of these areas and they need to think about in advance, how they're going to handle when that worst day comes. And that's something that I think about a lot in the context of fires, as well as earthquakes and, and other events. But, um, if you think about it before, you'll be in a much better place when it happens. And you'll also have a sense of security. Um, when something starts to Speaker 1: 50:09 Happen, Scott, we just have a few seconds left. Any final thoughts Speaker 5: 50:13 I'm most interested in looking at Californian's evolving relationship with, um, the world around them and the ground under their feet. Um, you know, people have a deep commitment to place in California. So I'm deeply in learning about how that relationship evolves over time, as, as it brings fire to their doorstep. Speaker 1: 50:32 Scott rod with cap radio, joining us from Lassen county at the site of the largest wildfire. So far this year, Kaley Wells with KCRW and Jacob Margolis with KPCC both in Southern California. Appreciate all of your reporting. This has been California wildfires. Your questions answered from cap radio in Sacramento and collaboration with NPR member stations across the state. Our lead producer and show director is Cynthia Lopez. Helga Salinas is our editor of audience engagement. She coordinated the call out for questions on this special, and we appreciate all of you for submitting your questions. Nick Miller edited the show. Helene Bartolome helped with production CAPP radio. His technical director is Mark Jones and our engineer Antonio Nunez arm's Sarkisyan is cap radios, managing editor of news talk, Joe bar cap, radio's chief content officer and I'm Vicky Gonzalez. Thanks for joining us.

Californians are facing what could be another historic wildfire season. From the North State to Southern California, the Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada, this special broadcast show will answer your most pressing questions about wildfires, explore solutions and look at ways to keep safe.