Catalina Island Fire Forces Evacuations Hot, dry weather fuels a wildfire on Catalina Island, a resort off the Southern California coast. Several homes burned Thursday night and many people are fleeing the popular getaway spot.
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Catalina Island Fire Forces Evacuations

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Catalina Island Fire Forces Evacuations

Catalina Island Fire Forces Evacuations

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Rebecca Roberts.

Twenty-six miles off the coast of Southern California a wild fire is burning on Santa Catalina Island. Residents and visitors have fled the island as the fire bears down on the main town of Avalon. Several homes have burned overnight. Captain Andrew Olvera(ph) is with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Captain ANDREW OLVERA (Los Angeles County Fire Department): The biggest challenge for fighting fires on Catalina Island is getting the firefighters here. That's the biggest challenge. And obviously once we get here it's getting everybody in place. And dealing with the steep terrain and the rocky terrain, that's also a big challenge for us.

ROBERTS: NPR's Carrie Kahn is on Santa Catalina Island with the latest.

Carrie, where are you and what can you see there?

CARRIE KAHN: I'm at the water's edge right at the marina across from the beautiful Avalon Casino, which is still standing. The sun has come up, and I - the smoke is so thick, Rebecca. It is really hard to see beyond this edge of the town here. We can see the homes on the hillside, but beyond that on the high canyon walls - these steep hills are smoking. The flames, you can't see them anymore like we did last night. But you can just see the smoke coming out from the canyon. There's a very, very smoky situation here.

But the town is doing okay right now. There were some structures lost, can't see them from here and we don't have confirmation on just how many were lost.

ROBERTS: What are fire officials saying?

KAHN: Well, they were saying in the dark, at about - in the early morning hours, that they had to suspend the helicopter, water-dropping aircraft, and they also had to suspend the hand crews. That it was just too dangerous of a situation, that they couldn't see what they were doing. And it seems that they're having a difficult time now even with the light of day because it is so smoky here. I heard the helicopters beginning at about 6:30 this morning, but they are far and few between. It's just so smoky and a dangerous situation for them still.

ROBERTS: Tell us a little bit more about this island. Some of our listeners may have been, but more have probably seen it in the movies, in "Chinatown" or "Mutiny on the Bounty."

KAHN: Well, where I am now is in Avalon. It is the main city of Catalina Island. And it's a tiny community. It's a very small, picturesque town. The houses come down from the hillside and drop into the tiny, little marina that edges the beautiful casino that you have seen in a lot of movies. It's a very tight-knit community. About 3,000 residents year-round, and on a beautiful summer day it could swell to about 10,000 coming from nearby Los Angeles, just 26 miles away.

And I was taken around on a golf cart, because that's the mode of transportation on the island, by Joe Guadagnino(ph) - they just call him Joe G. because it's so hard to pronounce his name. But he took me around and he showed me a bit of the devastation last night. He rents jet skis at the beach.

Mr. JOE GUADAGNINO: A lot of people in California don't realize, you know, they travel to Mexico and Hawaii, and paradise is 26 miles away. And anyone who has questions about that should come visit. It's a great island, some great people, very hospitable, very giving. It's an amazing little place.

KAHN: They took about 400 people off the island on ferries for the hour-long ride back to Los Angeles. People were just carrying whatever they could - baby carriages, they had grocery bags, they had suitcases. It was quite an exodus off the island last night.

ROBERTS: Carrie, this is your second fire just this week. It's not even officially fire season yet.

KAHN: We're supposed to have a month before fire season starts. And you could hear my voice getting a little husky from a lot of smoke in Southern California. It's devastating already. We saw Griffith Park burn, about a fifth of the park, earlier in the week. And now we're watching this beautiful island and resort - the fire line when I was coming in in the dark seemed to go on for miles. It's devastating to this beautiful resort area. And it's just a testament to how dry it's been this year. Catalina Island has only had two inches of rain this year, when they usually get about 13. Pretty much the same in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Our fire officials are concerned and city officials are concerned it's going to be a long fire season.

ROBERTS: NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting on wildfires on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast to Southern California. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

ROBERTS: And we'll continue to follow this story as it develops.

INSKEEP: And the fire season is also underway in the Southeastern United States. From southern Georgia across the state line into Florida, fires have burned almost 300 square miles now. These are hundreds of separate fires, by the way, on dried out land. One started when a power line fell on a tree. Others were started by lightning. And some are blamed on arson. Taken together, they forced many people to flee their homes. Some people may be hearing this broadcast today while stuck in traffic because heavy smoke has forced the closure of some highways.

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