In California, Wildfires Level Parts Of Santa Rosa NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Santa Rosa County Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal about the wildfires affecting Northern California.

In California, Wildfires Level Parts Of Santa Rosa

In California, Wildfires Level Parts Of Santa Rosa

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NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Santa Rosa County Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal about the wildfires affecting Northern California.


Wildfires are continuing to burn Northern California - homes, businesses and vineyards. At least 15 people are dead. The biggest and most deadly fire, the Tubbs fire, is in Sonoma County, where it has leveled parts of the city of Santa Rosa. Paul Lowenthal is assistant fire marshal for Santa Rosa, and he joins us now. Thanks for taking the time.

PAUL LOWENTHAL: My pleasure.

MCEVERS: So this Tubbs fire - it's been burning for days now. Can you just describe what it's like in Santa Rosa right now?

LOWENTHAL: Fortunately the temperatures are down. Winds are fairly calm. However, it's extremely smoky. It's pretty socked in. But given what we experienced a couple of days ago, we'd take this any time. We transitioned from very dry, extremely windy conditions that fanned this fire and created a pretty substantial level of destruction in the city of Santa Rosa to kind of a calm, eerie, smoky condition throughout the city.

MCEVERS: Can we technically say that the fire has been contained at this point?

LOWENTHAL: Oh, no, not at all. The weather conditions have substantially calmed from what they were when the fire started. We went from fanning a fire that was throwing ember and debris to the point where visibility was next to none to definitely not sunny out. But we can at least see the sun through the smoke - kind of a eerie, orange sky.

MCEVERS: And how would you describe the scope of the fire itself? I mean, is it out of the ordinary for Santa Rosa to see a fire like this?

LOWENTHAL: It's out of the ordinary for Santa Rosa, absolutely. We in the fire service are used to responding to large-scale wildfires around California regularly through the fire season. But never do we think that we're going to respond to one in our own backyard. It's pretty devastating. I'm looking at blocks and blocks of homes, entire neighborhoods, mobile home parks, hotels, restaurants, commercial buildings, warehouses and everything in between completely destroyed.

We recognize the fact that this has been a pretty hard hit to the city of Santa Rosa. But we're a resilient community. We're a resilient county. And we're going to get through this. The fire department isn't here just to put the fire out. We're in this one for the long haul. Not only has our community been affected. But our firefighters have been affected.


LOWENTHAL: We're looking at upwards of seven or eight firefighters that we know of whose homes were destroyed while we're battling this fire and continue to battle this fire, including my own. But right now the focus is on the community, getting the fire out and doing our job. And then we'll all get through this and help with the recovery process.

MCEVERS: Yeah. And how does that - how's that going to happen, the shifting to the recovery? I mean, what are the next steps for you?

LOWENTHAL: So as the fire gets contained and percentage of containments go up and acres stop increasing, you're going to see both the city and the county coming together based on the sheer volume of structures that have been lost to start working on assistance, helping coordinate cleanups, debris removal, damage assessment. There's a lot of elements that are offered by both the city and county that'll work collectively to help all the different communities with that recovery process.

MCEVERS: Paul Lowenthal, assistant fire marshal for Santa Rosa, Calif., thank you for your time today. And good luck.

LOWENTHAL: Thank you very much.

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