Thousands Of Calif. Fire Evacuees Still In Shelters Hundreds of homes from Santa Barbara to Orange County have burned to the ground, and even areas far from the fires are grappling with power and water shortages and poor air quality.
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Thousands Of Calif. Fire Evacuees Still In Shelters

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Thousands Of Calif. Fire Evacuees Still In Shelters

Thousands Of Calif. Fire Evacuees Still In Shelters

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Welcome back to All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Much of Southern California is lying under a heavy blanket of smoke today. Even if you're not close to the wild fires there, you can definitely smell them.

Unhealthy air is just a minor problem, though, compared with the uncertainty facing thousands of people still in evacuation shelters. NPR's Carrie Kahn caught up with some evacuees at a high school not far from Disneyland.

CARRIE KAHN: Katella High School in Anaheim has been transformed overnight to a small village. There are sleeping quarters inside the school's gymnasium. A local cable company has set up a movie-viewing station for kids, and out back, about a dozen dogs and cats are being sheltered from the intense heat.

Ms. LAURA KING: I have one cat named Elvis and one cat named Tigger. And then I have my Chihuahua, Tidbit, and then our Yorkie, Bambam, and that's them right there.

KAHN: Laura King (ph) and her dad had only enough time to grab their pets and jump into a car as the flames swooped down into their neighborhood.

Ms. KING: I mean, the whole hill was burning in flames, and like, there were planes that were going right over your head. You kind of felt like you see in movies, like wars, like they were just right over your head.

KAHN: King says the decision to leave was really difficult.

Ms. KING: So, we - last minute, we're like, we just have to go. They were literally, if you did not leave, putting you in a cop car or putting you in a fire truck.

KAHN: King and her dad had just moved into the house a month ago, and everything was still in boxes, so she wasn't able to take any belongings. Nearby, at the luxury Cascade Apartments, Lina Breeling(ph) and her sister, Alicia Aguilar(ph), had just moved in.

Ms. LINA BREELING: They're beautiful. It's a nice location, close to the freeway. You know, it was nice. And then we had two weeks of enjoyment.

KAHN: They've heard that 60 of the 200 units burned but don't know the fate of their apartment. They say they're very thankful for the help they've received here at the shelter.

Ms. BREELING: It makes you think of everything that you take for granted. It makes you very humble, very humble.

KAHN: Firefighters had a break in the devastating winds that have battered much of the region for the past three days. More than 800 homes and apartments have been destroyed. The Bocanegra(ph) family took advantage of a small patch of blue sky to venture outside and enjoy a day in an Anaheim city park.

Ms. LILIA BOCANEGRA: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Lilia Bocanegra said she lost her voice from all the ash and smoke in the air and told her grandchildren it wasn't a good idea to play outside.

Ms. BOCANEGRA: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: But she says, you know how kids are, in one ear and out the other. Just beyond the park, the blue sky gave way to a huge, brown, smoky plume. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to reassure anxious residents that the state would be there to help despite its severe budget problems.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Let me tell you something. We always have enough money for emergencies. We keep a certain amount of money aside for reserve exactly for emergencies.

KAHN: And he said, this has been a big one, a tough few days for the people of Southern California. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Anaheim.

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