Wildfires creating 'hellscape' in Northern California

Oct 10, 2017

Deadly wildfires are ripping across Northern California, scorching more than 115,000 acres across eight counties. At least 13 people have been confirmed dead.

Multiple fires are now burning across the region’s wine country, which includes Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. The blazes have forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate and destroyed 1,500 structures, including mobile home parks, houses and wineries.

Dozens have been sent to the hospital with fire- or smoke-related injuries, and about 100 people have been reported missing. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

“It is a hellscape,” says John Sepulvado, the host of the public radio program The California Report. On Monday, he was in the city of Santa Rosa, which sustained heavy damage. 

“I saw homes that were completely leveled, pipes exposed,” he continues.  “[There were] gas pipes that were still turned on, reminiscent of oil derricks that can’t shut off — they’re just burning gas. I saw a 20-foot-high flame at one gas valve. The authorities have to let them burn because if they don’t, the fire could travel underneath and blow up the entire town and tanks underneath. It’s an incredibly scary situation.”

Sepulvado says he had what he called a “surreal experience” when he saw a Hilton hotel burn to the ground. 

“Because there’s so many fires burning at once, firefighters have to decide, ‘Can we save this? Can we do it in a way that will not cause any injury to firefighters?’” says Sepulvado. “Of course, if there’s the potential for loss of life they’re not going to do it, or if they need to save someone, they will do that as well. But that puts firefighters in a situation where they’re letting structures burn.” 

Other counties are sending firefighters and aid to California’s wine country, and more help is expected to come. 

“But because there’s so many fires burning at the same time in very suburban areas ... there is a lot of ground to cover, but a lot to burn,” he says. “It is just a scary situation.”

This story originally appeared on The Takeaway


From The Takeaway ©2017 PRI and WNYC