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California Community Deals With Back-To-Back Tragedies

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I'm David Greene in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a community that has been struggling through back-to-back tragedies. Last week, a shooter opened fire at a bar here, killing 12 people before taking his own life. And just a day later, a massive fire forced thousands to evacuate their homes. That includes Mary Coyne (ph). She fled with her husband and four kids. They spent the weekend at an evacuation center. And when we met her last night, she was about to try for some sleep on a cot in an open gymnasium. I asked her if this week has changed her community.

MARY COYNE: The shooting - I think that was a freak incident that, I mean, honestly could've happened anywhere. I still think we're a very safe, pretty close-knit community, and especially being here and seeing all the donations that people have brought. So, I mean, that in and of itself is amazing that the community has come together to help us who've been displaced. We're still a good place.

GREENE: And there is good news. Mary heard that her house was mostly unscathed, and she and her family are eager to get home. NPR's Nate Rott has been covering both of the stories here in Thousand Oaks, and he is with me at our member station KCLU. Hi there, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So I'm pretty sure that the evacuation center where I met that family last night - you were there right after the shooting at the bar, right?

ROTT: Yeah, the following day I was there briefly. And we had reporters there throughout the day as the place transitioned from, you know, a place that family and friends were coming to figure out if their loved ones had survived that tragic shooting - as it transitioned from that into an evacuation center where people from all over the community were going there for water or just to get away from their homes as this fire was burning up these hillsides. So it was one of a lot of surreal scenes of that day. We'd reported on a procession that had happened that day for the sergeant from the Ventura County sheriff's department who had passed.

GREENE: Right.

ROTT: He had run into the bar and...

GREENE: Seen as a hero.

ROTT: Yeah. And they had a procession for him as they moved his body from the hospital to a funeral home. And hours later, that freeway was closed because of these fires. So, yeah, it was just a crazy experience.

GREENE: You know, I was talking to the mayor of Thousand Oaks last night. And he was saying that now that the fires are dying down, the community can kind of resume their grieving, that a lot of memorial services were held up maybe because people involved in them were actually evacuating...

ROTT: Right.

GREENE: ...Fire. So that's the big question. Are these fires both here and in Northern California - are they dying down?

ROTT: I'll speak for here. But down here, I think they are. It's certainly not over yet. I think the containment numbers are not nearly where firefighters want them to be. But we did have a wind event yesterday. And I believe I had heard fire officials say last night that the containment lines that they had built were holding. And so if your containment lines are holding during a wind event, that's a good sign.

There's a red-flag warning in effect today. So there could be more winds that come through and push this fire around. But, you know, there certainly wasn't the large plumes of smoke that we had seen in the days previous. One thing, too, that I think we should keep in mind here, just take a big step backward, is that, you know, last year in December - that was when the largest fire in California state history started. It's no longer the largest fire in California state history. We broke that record this year.

GREENE: Right.

ROTT: But, you know, we're only in November. So...

GREENE: There could be more.

ROTT: There could be more fires down the road.

GREENE: President Trump has blamed forest policy for these fires. You hear Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat in California, talking about global warming. Are those real - are those explanations that are legitimate for - to explain this?

ROTT: I think they're both oversimplifications, and neither is entirely true (laughter). I think it's a combination of things. Climate change is absolutely having a large impact on this. I think some fire ecologists say - would say that forest management is having an impact. But I don't think that you could just assign it to one thing.

GREENE: NPR's Nate Rott. Nate, thanks a lot.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.