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More Areas In California Are Ravaged By Drought And Wildfires


It's becoming almost an annual story. States of emergency are now in place in more California counties ravaged by drought and wildfire. Wind-driven fires in the northern parts of the state are burning homes and even whole towns. NPR's Kirk Siegler has the latest.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: At the incident command post for the massive Dixie fire, a water hauler rumbles past. A hand crew from Monterey, Calif., loads into a wagon as Captain Sergio Arellano looks up at the two massive, volcano-like plumes stretching miles across the Sierra Nevada horizon. He says the winds are making the Dixie fire aggressive.

SERGIO ARELLANO: It causes embers to fly. It causes fire to spread, and, as you're seeing right now, it's - the fire's definitely running.

SIEGLER: At one point, it chewed through 50,000 acres in a matter of hours. That's how extremely dry and flammable this country is, owing to extreme drought and prior forest management policies.

ARELLANO: It's uncertain weather. We're getting weather patterns all over the place.

SIEGLER: It's a similar troubling story about 100 miles to the south on the River fire, which is burning in far more densely populated woods in the foothills east of Sacramento. Homes have burned, and thousands had to evacuate. And it's clear some here were living on the economic margins before this disaster.

GAIL MERRITT: We sprayed down our house, and we don't have homeowners insurance. So we're doing everything I can to save our house.

SIEGLER: Gail Merritt, her husband, their two cats and a dog evacuated in their pickup and RV to this shelter in a high school parking lot. They had prepared and had their rigs mostly packed even before the warnings came.

MERRITT: I did a lot of fire safety around the house before this, you know, and so we're finding that we're OK so far. And we're crossing our fingers.

SIEGLER: Nearby, Robbie Marr is relieved to see the skies clearing some compared to when he evacuated.

ROBBIE MARR: I mean, it was going a hundred feet in the air, and it was dark brown smoke. And it was scary.

SIEGLER: He has his wheelchair attached to a rack on the back of his minivan. His nephews helped him get out. He grew up in Lake Tahoe and says wildfires were a part of life.

MARR: Usually, you worry about it in September and October. This year, we worried about it in June and July so...

SIEGLER: And with climate change, the late fall and winter rainy season here is shrinking, causing fire managers to warn of many more long months ahead. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Auburn, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIN JOONG HYUN'S "'J' BLUES 72" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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