MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to start the program today in California, where three catastrophic wildfires have killed at least nine people and have displaced thousands more. The Butte County Fire Department in Northern California has confirmed nine deaths. The fire there has burned more than 100,000 acres and is now the most destructive fire in the state's modern history. In Southern California, just north of Los Angeles, two fires forced authorities to issue a mandatory evacuation for the residents of an estimated 75,000 homes. Stephanie O'Neill is a reporter who's been covering the destruction, and she's with us now from Southern California.
Stephanie, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
STEPHANIE O'NEILL: Hey, thank you.
MARTIN: First of all, what's the latest that you are hearing from officials about the state of these fires?
O'NEILL: Well, both of them are burning with devastating force on both ends of the state, as you mentioned. In Southern California, more than a quarter million people have been evacuated from the Woolsey Fire, which doubled overnight to 70,000 acres. And that fire, by the way, straddles the Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, and it just remains out of control with zero percent containment. It's burned more than 150 homes. There's the famous Paramount Ranch, which is the backdrop for a bunch of films and TV shows - that's gone. In Malibu, where the fire's now burning really fiercely, fire tornadoes have been reported. The winds are just, you know, pretty strong.
That was yesterday. It's calmed down now, but it's expected to pick up again. And there, as mentioned, two people have been found dead, and they're investigating was the cause of death is. But it's, you know, likely it will be a fire.
MARTIN: Can you just tell us a bit more about the extent of the damage? I know we're seeing some images, but what else can you tell us?
O'NEILL: Well, and I've been just up in the Malibu Mountains driving behind the fire lines, and it's just obviously smoky. I'm seeing just kind of the hopscotching of the fires where some buildings are completely destroyed. There are houses that are still standing, but a lot of destruction. We're seeing downed power lines, which is kind of scary to drive around. When you look over normally a gorgeous vista to the ocean, it's just clogged with smoke. The fire is nearly closer to the coast right now, but just tons of destruction up there. It's kind of mind-boggling to see it when I know, you know, what it used to look like before.
MARTIN: And you started to tell us a bit more about this earlier, but what progress has been made to contain these fires? Do you have any sense from the authorities about how long it might be until they're fully contained?
O'NEILL: Well - yeah, well, today is really good because we have some offshore breezes, and that's giving the firefighters a much-needed reprieve because it's been - these hot Santa Ana winds have just fueled the fires and push it down toward all the homes. So, right now, we have this good reprieve. It's just now getting a little bit windier. The nasty Santa Ana winds are supposed to start again. The winds are expected to kick up pretty hard tonight and really hard tomorrow, so we don't know what's going to happen except things are probably going to get ugly again.
MARTIN: And we have about a minute left, so do we know anything about how these fires started?
O'NEILL: Well, the worst and most tragic fire is the deadly Camp Fire north - (unintelligible) as you mentioned, killed nine people, destroyed the town of Paradise - 6,700 homes. You know, seniors live there. It's a complete tragedy. That fire Pacific Gas and Electric has reported to regulators. They had an incident early on Thursday at the time the Camp Fire started. It's not clear whether the fires caused the problem or whether the problem caused the fire. It was on a transmission line. But in California, these, you know, transmission lines have been the point of origin for many of these fires.
It could be the same thing with the Woolsey Fire, but we just don't know yet. And these fires are likely to burn for quite a while. They think that the Camp Fire will go until the end of the month - until the 30 at least.
MARTIN: Well, that was Stephanie O'Neill joining us from Southern California.
Stephanie, thank you so much.
O'NEILL: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.