At Least 25 Killed In California Wildfires
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to begin again today with the wildfires in California that have been taking a terrible toll, killing at least 25 people. What's being called the Camp Fire in Northern California has become the most destructive and the third-most deadly wildfire in state history in less than four days. The 109,000-acre blaze has destroyed more than 6,000 homes and killed at least 23 people. Reporter Sonja Hutson from member station KQED is in Chico, which is just outside the burn area.
Sonja, thanks so much for being here.
SONJA HUTSON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Can you tell us a little bit about the communities that have been affected by this fire?
HUTSON: Yeah. The fire has burned through a lot of really beautiful forested canyons here in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The towns of Magalia and Paradise, which are pretty densely populated for being in the middle of a forest, have almost entirely been destroyed. There's a handful of buildings left standing, and the rest are just piles of debris. There are lots of low-income people who live in these communities, and they will be by far hit the hardest by this in the long run. I met a woman named Katie McCrary who lives in a mobile home in Paradise, and she's really hoping it's OK.
KATIE MCCRARY: I have some insurance, but the trailer's an '87. It's an older model, so I'm not going to get much for it if I get anything. I have my car, got a bed made up in the back, so we'll be fine.
HUTSON: If your home burns down, do you think you're going to be living out of your car for the foreseeable future?
HUTSON: When I talked to Katie, she was sitting on the side of the road in front of a roadblock waiting to see if her son and his family might come out. Her cell phone's not working, and she hasn't been able to find them. But she was really kind of stoic about the whole thing, just refusing to accept the possibility that they might not be OK.
MARTIN: Well, you know, obviously their safety is the most important concern. But I do want to go back to something that you said earlier. If her house burns down, it sounds like she will be homeless. What is going to happen to all of these people who've lost their homes?
HUTSON: We really don't know at this point. Housing availability is definitely going to be a big issue. There are tens of thousands of people who are now without housing, and there aren't tens of thousands of available units in the area. Some people will have to move away. Rental prices could go up over time just because of supply and demand. And some people will be homeless, like Katie. This is really the easiest way to explain how these fires impact poor people differently. Wealthier middle-class people can usually afford to make up the difference between what it costs to rebuild and what their insurance companies give them. And low-income people don't usually have that option.
MARTIN: And can I ask, did people who live there see this fire coming?
HUTSON: They didn't necessarily see it coming, but they aren't really surprised that it happened. This is a heavily wooded area that has high fire danger. But people still chose to live here because they love having access to the outdoors right from their home. And a lot of people, especially people who have lived in these areas for such a long time, are still planning to rebuild at this point.
MARTIN: That Sonja Hutson of member station KQED.
Sonja, Thanks so much.
HUTSON: Thank you.
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