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California's Wine Region Is Threatened By 'Explosive Growth' Wildfire

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At least three people have died from a wildfire in Northern California. Two new fires are burning out of control in the area. One of them in the state's famed wine country has tripled in size. More than 68,000 residents have been forced from their homes in Napa and Sonoma counties. Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin is one of them.

SUSAN GORIN: We were enveloped in smoke, never recognizing that that fire would ember and come cascading down the hill and over the ridge the very next evening.

MARTIN: We've got Kevin Stark with us. He's a reporter with member station KQED, and he is in Petaluma near what's being called the Glass Fire. Kevin, thanks for being here. I mean, we just heard the voice from the county supervisor there forced from her own home, apparently. What does her story tell us about this fire?

KEVIN STARK, BYLINE: Good morning. Yeah, so during a press conference last night, she described how this fire started as a concerning but small fire some distance from the suburb where she lives, Santa Rosa. This is an area that has burned several times in recent years. So for people near the fire, they're performing what has become this kind of familiar dance - checking evacuation alerts, ready-and-go bags, monitoring fire reports and, in some cases, fleeing their homes, not knowing when they will be returning or what they'll be returning to. And this just - you know, it just seems to happen every year now.

On Sunday night, the winds picked up, and the wildfire spread rapidly across Napa Valley. It was a reminder of a traumatic event when Gorin's home burned in a fire a few years ago in 2017. She described showering embers on tinder-dry vegetation that sparked more fire, which spread, forcing her to evacuate. And, you know, this is what fire officials describe as explosive fire growth. This wildfire burned through 4 miles in about six hours on Sunday night and into Monday.

MARTIN: And, of course, this is all happening amid a pandemic, which inevitably complicates providing shelter to people, right?

STARK: So normally, people would just flee to these huge evacuation centers at fairgrounds, community centers. But, you know, because of the coronavirus, we can't be gathering in that way. So now officials have set up kind of, like, evacuation pit stops, where people are screened for the - for coronavirus symptoms. They're funneled towards hotels and college dorms. You know, many people are sleeping in campers and RVs and cars because it's just been really difficult to get to get shelter in some places. Susan was lucky enough to find a place to escape to.

GORIN: I'm evacuated in Nevada with a lot of friends and neighbors. We were lucky to get a motel room. They're hard to come by.

MARTIN: So what are officials saying about how things are looking in terms of getting this fire - these fires under control?

STARK: Well, right now, firefighters have been focused on protecting people's homes, keeping people safe. When possible, they're dropping suppressant and water on the flames. But, you know, they're just beginning to try and control the fire. It's still growing and without any containment. Mark McGuire (ph) - he's a state senator for Sonoma County - spoke at that fire briefing. And he tried to put this fire into context for people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE MCGUIRE: This fire is the biggest threat to public safety in Northern California. Want to remind folks - is we do have significant fires across this state. As difficult as last night was, firefighters saved much more than were lost.

MARTIN: All right. We'll keep on it. Kevin Stark with member station KQED on the fires in Northern California. We appreciate it, Kevin. Thanks.

STARK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.