San Diego County Wildfires Prompt Evacuations, State Of Emergency

More than a half-dozen wildfires are burning in the Southern California county. Thousands of residents have been evacuated. Renee Montagne speaks with reporter Erik Anderson of member station KPBS.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Fast-moving wildfires are - continued to burn here in Southern California, these fires in San Diego County. Thousands of residents have been evacuated; schools have been closed, and Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency there. To learn more about what's happening, we're joined by reporter Erik Anderson of member station KPBS. Good morning.

ERIK ANDERSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let's start by having you tell us what you're seeing.

ANDERSON: Well, what we're seeing is four active fires that are still actually burning. It was kind of an amazing day yesterday for us because we had at one point up to nine different fires burning in the county. And these are not small fires; these are fairly big fires. You see those big plumes kind of wafting up into the sky, and you can see them, you know, well off into the horizon. And you know that there's a big wildfire burning.

It started actually two days ago in Rancho Bernardo area, which is kind of a suburban enclave of wealthy homes. But it's in rolling terrain that has a lot of brush that can burn. Windy conditions kind of kicked up that fire on Tuesday - got that under control the next day. But yesterday things started early up in - near Camp Pendleton, and then we saw fires burn in other parts of the county - near a major interstate, near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in the Eastern suburbs of San Diego. So really, it was amazing…

MONTAGNE: Lots of fires. I mean, we’re used to very big fires in that region, that area. But lots of big fires headed for areas where they could burn more.

ANDERSON: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: Well, what about the areas evacuated? What’s going on there?

ANDERSON: Well, a lot of these fires happened near homes of course. And the county has a very active emergency evacuation notification system. So they sent out notifications to people. You know, they sent somewhere in the neighborhood of 120,000 evacuation notices during the course of yesterday. Does that mean 120,000 people evacuated? Well, no. But they were getting word out that there was danger out there, and I think it kind of reflects the scope and the fact that these fires happen near where people live and work. So many people got those notices and then took the appropriate action to get away from any damaging or dangerous flames.

MONTAGNE: You know, Erik, none of this is unexpected in that there’s this terrible drought here in California, and there’s been talk of, uh-oh, when the fires start. But there’s also been a few days of incredibly, unusually hot weather throughout Southern California. So – what? – is there any relief?

ANDERSON: Well, there is relief coming. It’s not going to be as windy today. That’s going to help firefighters who are trying to get the fires that are still burning under control. There’s going to be hot temperatures today, but those temperatures are going to abate a little bit as we get closer to the weekend. So it’s going to cool off a bit.

The unusual thing about this particular event is it’s a Santa Ana wind event, winds basically coming from the East from the deserts, up over the mountains and into the coastal regions, bringing with them hot, dry air that not only blows embers and creates fire worries that way, but also has these really dry conditions that kind of sucks all the moisture out of the air.

Well, those conditions typically don’t happen this time of year, as you know. And it’s usually something that happens in September or October. You couple that with the three-year drought that California is experiencing, and that’s why I think you have that – all the wildfires that popped up yesterday.

MONTAGNE: That’s reporter Erik Anderson of member station KPBS in San Diego. Thanks for joining us.

ANDERSON: My pleasure.

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