Amid Raging Wildfires, Southern Californians Find Blaze On Doorstep

fromKPBS

Wildfires are burning in California's San Diego County. Megan Burks of KPBS says that one person has been killed in the blaze, and high temperatures are frustrating containment efforts.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

And I'm Audie Cornish. A swarm of fires has ripped through nearly 20,000 acres in southern California. And now, it's turned deadly. Fire crews found one body in a homeless encampment in the northern San Diego suburb of Carlsbad, and at least 25 homes have been destroyed. It's an early start for fire season in California. We'll hear more about that after this report from Megan Burks of member station KPBS in San Diego.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND BLOWING)

MEGAN BURKS, BYLINE: Swirling flames are chewing through dry brush and homes. One of nine fires burning, the Poinsettia Fire originated in a canyon just below dentist Jeff Knutzen's office. He says he had patients in his chairs when an employee spotted smoke and fire climbing toward the building.

DR. JEFF KNUTZEN: As I took a look, the flames were heading west fast - rapidly. So, we encouraged the patients and all of the employees to get out and evacuate immediately. And in about two minutes everybody was out and everybody got out safely.

BURKS: The flames leapt to the roof, causing some structural damage. Less than a quarter mile away, another close call for Gregory Saksa.

GREGORY SAKSA: Black smoke appeared coming our way and then approximately a half an hour, 45 minutes later, they knocked on our door, said you have to leave because the fire's headed your way and it's going to be deadly. You have to leave.

BURKS: Saksa's house was completely destroyed.

SAKSA: That was the dining room. That was the living room and bedroom and guest bedroom right there.

BURKS: The adobe home has been in his family for 30 years and was passed down to him by his mother.

SAKSA: It's really upsetting to me because this is the house of her life, you know. I'm going to have to do all the best I can to, you know, get the money I can back so I can rebuild it.

BURKS: Now, Saksa will hole up in a garage on the property. The accommodation is rough, but possible thanks to a small miracle.

SAKSA: Oh you have 'em.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: What is that?

BURKS: The Mercedes keys.

His front door is ash, but the car keys he had next to it are still there. Now, he can get to oil in his trunk and power up a portable generator.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oil, good.

SAKSA: Here's what we we're after.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Is that all you need?

SAKSA: That's all I need.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And we got the keys. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.

BURKS: He'll use that generator to set up a makeshift kitchen in the garage.

(SOUNDBITE OF GENERATOR RUNNING)

BURKS: Saksa doesn't have homeowners insurance and plans to apply for aid. But first, he'll cook a meal. All the adrenaline from the past few days has kept him from eating. For NPR News, I'm Megan Burks in San Diego.

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