RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here in California, hundreds of wildfires are still burning out of control. The weather isn't cooperating, with temperatures in some places well over 100 degrees and with more wind expected to blow. A top priority for firefighters right now is one fire in Northern California. It's consumed more than 49,000 acres.
The Butte County fire has forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 residents in the small communities of Paradise and Concow. It's also destroyed more than 50 homes. Tamara Keith of member-station KQED was with one couple as they returned to their home for the first time.
TAMARA KEITH: Joan and Jerrold Lively built their house in Concow more than 30 years ago, in amongst evergreen trees and manzanita. Like everyone here, they've been on edge for weeks as lightning-sparked wildfires burned in the hills and ravines around their isolated community.
Ms. JOAN LIVELY: We live about half a mile from here.
Mr. JERROLD LIVELY: Right at the top of this hill.
KEITH: As fire information officer Mark Hollan steers toward their home, the view from the car is nothing but charred hillside, smoldering trees and downed telephone poles. It doesn't look good.
Ms. LIVELY: And you always think about, you know, what if, and you always plan, but here it is. This is real stuff.
KEITH: Joan Lively says they were ready, as ready as you can be. They evacuated once before, when the lightning fires first ignited in late June.
Ms. LIVELY: Because of the fires two weeks ago, we - I pretty much packed everything, as far as important things, up.
KEITH: But this, their second homecoming, is wrenching.
Mr. LIVELY: See that little pump house there? That's it. Right there. My God, look at that.
KEITH: The skeleton of what was once the Livelys' tractor is burning as we pull into the driveway.
(Soundbite of car doors)
KEITH: The house is gone. Now it's just two fireplaces, the shadow of a few appliances, and a whole lot of ash. Joan points to the freezer.
Ms. LIVELY: We just put $1,000 worth of meat in our freezer there. That's the freezer.
KEITH: The freezer is blackened. It looks like it would just disintegrate if you touched it. Jerrold walks ahead.
Mr. LIVELY: It's a lifetime of investment of memories, memorabilia, blood, sweat and tears. And it's gone in a whiff. My God.
KEITH: Jerrold, a retired Butte County administrator, says he built this house almost entirely on his own. It was two stories, 2,600 square feet, and with a view of the Feather River Valley below.
He looks out towards the valley, and all he can see is smoke.
Mr. LIVELY: Damn. What can you say? It's still burning. That's my house.
KEITH: For forest service firefighter Mark Hollan, who brought the Livelys in to see their home, this is quite possibly the worst part of the job. He's been driving through scorched neighborhoods, surveying the losses. He says this destruction happened because the weather took a turn for the worse and several fires combined.
Mr. MARK HOLLAN (Forest Service Firefighter, Butte County, California): We really thought we were getting a handle on it. If the weather held, we'd be in good shape. Well, the weather didn't help. Mom threw a curveball at us, and it really hit.
KEITH: Mother Nature.
Mr. HOLLAND: Yeah.
KEITH: For the Livelys, that curveball means they now have to think about rebuilding, but Jerrold says at 69 years old, he won't be doing it all on his own this time. For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith in Butte County.
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