Tanzina Vega: Hi everyone. I'm Tanzina Vega and this is The Takeaway. A new batch of wildfires sparked in Northern California over the weekend, forcing evacuations and blanketing the region in smoke.
Resident 1: The climate is not what it used to be. I can't speak for the rest of the nation, but I've lived here almost all my life and I do not remember this amount of dryness and this amount of fuel.
Resident 2: It's emotionally exhausting, just looking at everything else so then we walked up the street, none of the neighbors were left. The lady across the road here gone. All these people's things were gone. It was just pure devastation.
Tanzina: California residents, they're telling us about their experiences. Joining me now is Sarah Stierch to freelance journalists covering the North Bay fires. Welcome to The Takeaway.
Sarah Stierch: Hello, Tanzina.
Tanzina: What can you tell us of the status of the glass fire.
Sarah: As of this morning, the glass fire, which started on Sunday morning around 4:00 AM in a community in Northern Napa County called Deer Park. As of this morning, it's 46,600 acres and again that number will likely change in a few hours here when they get the morning reports in. It's at 2% containment, which is a small number of containment, but hey, it's good news. I know that's on the Sonoma County side.
We have about over 22,000 structures threatened right now, which has doubled over the past 48 hours. While they've reported about 82 structures destroyed, 80 which are residential, that number will likely grow. The cause of the fire does remain unknown. They're investigating now.
Tanzina: Sarah, why are we not hearing-- I mean, we hear in the media, on our show are doing a segment about this now, but I feel like we're not hearing as much about these fires more broadly and obviously there's a lot to cover, but this is a big story.
Sarah: Yes, I agree. It's interesting. After the lightning strikes and the many, many fires that started in August and what tragically happened to our neighbors in the North and Oregon and Washington State, I noticed that the coverage has dropped off in major media organizations. I understand there's a lot going on with the future of our nation regarding politics but climate change is obviously a critical situation.
I noticed it was added into the debate last night. It was touched on a little bit and my ears perked up. But the fact that people are still losing their homes, the economy here is already being battered by not only COVID-19, and especially our hospitality industry, but now more wildfires, especially in a region that has been repeatedly tackled by wildfires, let alone in the past month, This fire is burning less than one mile from a fire scar that literally started in August.
Tanzina: What can you tell us about the smoke conditions there?
Sarah: The conditions right now are extremely dry. As mentioned earlier, extremely dry, there are a lot of fuels, trees, grasses, and those areas that have not burned in a very long time, sometimes a century. There's a lot of concern about, in the next 24 hours we could have a-- we have fire weather watch right now. It could increase to a red flag warning if conditions worsen. We are a little concerned that there could be areas burning that haven't burned a very long time in those residential areas in those areas.
Tanzina: Sarah, are you seeing images of ash coming from the sky, that are pretty impressive and almost a little terrifying. What does that look like right now?
Sarah: There were, at least as of two days ago, in the Santa Rosa area and Northern Napa County in a community called Calistoga, there was ash falling that was the size of Frisbees, not even exaggerating. I was taken aback when I saw the photographs and confirmed it with, with Cal fire. It was remarkable. All it takes is one big gust of wind to push those embers.
Right now, embers are jumping out ahead of the pot fire line, as we say about a quarter of a mile, which is small considered two nights ago, they were jumping 1.5 miles. The fire was able to move rapidly within a 40-minute period from Napa County over the mountains into Sonoma County to threaten retirement communities and large residential areas along a very popular commuter corridor and scenic routes through wine country within 40 minutes and destroy homes and threatened commercial businesses and suburban communities.
Tanzina: Sarah, you yourself have found yourself in the position of being a wildfire reporter who's working on this story 24/7 tweeting updates left, and right. How are you feeling? At a personal level, how are Californians feeling in the region about what's happening? What's the sense of safety right now? How are people dealing with this emotionally?
Sarah: We're exhausted. It's the old adage of I'm tired of being tired of wildfires. I went from being a wine nerd who wrote about all these tasty beverages we are known for making here in Sonoma and Napa County to somebody who decided to educate myself about how wildfires work and study and learn and realize there was an urgent need for quick and simple, easy to digest information that could possibly help people escape harm's way or save lives. We are still in desperate need of more information like that.
We have learned a lot from the past. I am a survivor of the 2017 wildfires here that devastated wine country and Sonoma County and Napa County. People here are just literally exhausted. It's almost like when I've been speaking to people, who've lost their homes-- Some people lost their homes in 2017 and still haven't even finished rebuilding their new homes and they've lost those structures.
Tanzina: Sarah, do you expect this to change the actual face of the community? Granted, this is a region that is a wine country, there are probably somewhat wealthier communities and pockets in this region than there may be in other parts of the state but to that point, are people going to say, "You know what? I've got to go somewhere else"?
Sarah: We have. We did see in 2017, which was our first major wildfire in the area in decades, we did see people migrate. There will be a migration. I already know people who are not rebuilding and there are people who are wealthy. There are people who were homeless, who lost their homes in a homeless shelter that we had here in Sonoma County. There are people of all walks of life and people are going to be leaving. I don't know where they're going to go yet, but things are changing here. The face of the hospitality and tourism industry is going to be changing as well.
Tanzina: Sarah Stierch is a freelance journalist covering the North Bay fires. Thank you for your work, Sarah, and we hope you stay safe.
Sarah: Thank you.
Kimba: This is Kimba in Sonoma County, California. My dentist lost her home, the safe pass. A third of my bridge club is either evacuated or just outside the evacuation zone. The fire is 15 miles away, but my go bags are packed and my phone, always on to receive danger alerts. The sky is yellow, gray, and ash falls. It's surreal.
Pam: This is Pam from Los Altos, California. There's definitely been a psychological toll. It's just co-matched with COVID and the heinous political climate and California with chronic fires, dangerous weather situations nationwide, unemployment, none of its happening directly to me, but it's all piling up and it's having a huge effect on my mental health.
Elizabeth: My name is Elizabeth Miller. We have been affected by the glass fire. About eight houses down the road from us have been affected by the fires and those people will no longer have a place to call home.
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