Gains Made Against California Fire
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Firefighters are reporting some progress today in battling the massive wildfire outside Los Angeles. Higher humidity has helped pushed the flames away from populated areas and back into the wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains, but the fire continues to spread. Molly Peterson of member station KPCC joins us from the Fire Command Center, that's around the southwest edge of the fire. And Molly, what is the latest on how much is burnt and how dangerous this fire continues to be?
MOLLY PETERSON: Well, the last number they gave this morning was 121,272 acres - close to 122,000 acres - and they're saying the fire is about five percent contained, mostly along the north and southern ends. They described the condition that has changed overnight, in particular Incident Commander Mike Dietrich who spoke this morning described conditions changing overnight. Let me - let's hear what he has to say.
Mr. MIKE DIETRICH (Incident Commander): Yesterday, I characterized the fire as angry. Today I'm going to characterize it as cranky because it's kind of taking on a life of its own and it's just going to be very difficult to deal with, and I'm not sure why.
PETERSON: There are a lot of factors in - as to what the conditions are here. The wind speeds are higher today. The temperature is lower. So cautiously optimistic is the tone they're sounding.
BLOCK: And we mentioned weather, as you mentioned, is helping out. Humidity is a factor here that's helping the firefighters.
PETERSON: It is. I spoke to - earlier, I spoke to Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst Shelly Crook who - we heard from her in the top of the hour on your show. And Shelly Crook said that this is a precedent setting because there are a number - again, these factors we're talking about, in particular data points and weather and meteorology, are varying widely and they haven't seen this kind of behavior before. Once they learn how to adapt to fighting it, they believe that they'll be able to train other firefighters to learn how to handle conditions like this.
BLOCK: Molly, what are you hearing about how much the fire is costing California? We've heard a lot about the state being in financial distress. How is the state affording to continue to fight this fire and others?
PETERSON: Well, staggeringly, after two months in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, we're looking at California having spent a little over $106 million of $182 million for the entire year. So with 10 months left, we've got less than $76 million in the kitty. We've got a $500 million reserve. Governor Schwarzenegger argued for that big reserve, saying the cost of firefighting is unpredictable. But it's interesting because California as he - as Governor Schwarzenegger also says frequently this is a year-round occurrence at this point. And it's interesting that this numbers is what it is.
BLOCK: Molly, what can you tell us about the mood around the Fire Command Center where you've been spending your time?
PETERSON: You know, there were a lot of fatigue problems early on when the temperatures were 107 degrees. We had a firefighter injury. His kidneys failed, renal failure. And there were concerns about that, not out of management concerns but just because everyone's so exhausted. Today, people are sort of settling into a routine. They know they're going to be here, they're thinking, till mid September.
BLOCK: Okay. Reporter Molly Peterson of member station KPCC, thank you very much.
PETERSON: You're welcome.