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More than 10,000 homes in Paradise burned to the ground, in what’s become known as the Camp Fire. It’s the worst wildfire in state history. We won’t know the final death count until emergency personnel can complete their search. Hundreds of people went missing. The fire started at about 6:30 in the morning on November 8th, in a remote area about 15 miles outside of Paradise.

Well it was the conditions. It was really windy and hot and dry. q gas station But it was also the location of where this fire sparked. It was way out down this rural road that was nearly impassable. And the first firefighter to respond drives out as close as he can get. He gets eyes on the fire within 10 minutes of the first report. But he can tell by looking at it that fighting this fire is gonna be really really tough.

So people in the town of Paradise had not gotten alerts as of 8:00 AM. They send out these first alerts at that point, and declare a mandatory evacuation for many areas in Paradise. But again, this is an opt-in system, and we do know that the sheriff did not use the wireless emergency alerts that could’ve let everybody know pretty quickly that this was going on. Those are those amber-style alerts that hijack your phone and make a loud noise.

Yeah, so they’re going door to door, but already there are reports of people who are getting trapped. Including firefighters and first responders. On the tape I heard so many of these reports of first responders getting stuck inside the fire line, and they had to evacuate hospitals, schools, and even once first responders made it in to people who were trapped, they still had to get them out to safety.

Their plans were pretty much overwhelmed. As everybody rushed to get out of town, traffic becomes this huge problem. electricity generation definition And they tried to shut down the main arteries leading out of town to have all traffic going outbound to help people escape from the fire. But even just setting that up becomes really chaotic. People are abandoning their cars, at one point they have to actually take another giant truck to push cars out of the way to clear the way for residents who are trying to stream out of this town and escape from this fire.

Sukey’s been covering more of these fires, because … well they keep getting worse. Last year at this time, she and her colleagues at KQED, Marisa Lagos and Lisa Pickoff-White, reported on a fire that scorched wine country in Napa and Sonoma counties. They found that emergency response systems, including Cal Fire, the state agency that responds to wildfire, aren’t built to keep up with the fires that are burning hotter and faster than ever before.

With no one to send to put out all these small fires, two blazes explode almost simultaneously, about 30 miles apart. In the forested hills of Sonoma County, gusts of wind are sweeping up burning tree branches and debris, and hurling these embers miles through the air. The blaze starts jumping from one mountain peak to another, leapfrogging valleys, racing through Napa vineyards and devouring homes across both counties.

Safety for the public, safety for the rescuer, do what you can. What that means is putting out fires isn’t the priority any more. For firefighters, the singular focus is saving human lives, including their own. At 10:30, Cal Fire starts calling local law enforcement agencies in Napa and Sonoma to initiate evacuations. In this game of telephone, you can hear a lot go wrong.

They look out the window, and can see a faint glow of fire. Christina’s husband Greg chats with the neighbors and prepares to leave. Just in case, they fill two cars with valuables. A new painting, dog treats for Max. All the while that fire in the distance, fueled by high winds, is burning much closer. Soon it’s right at the end of their street.

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From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Throughout the country, wildfires are getting more extreme. And in California, this year’s fires have proven deadlier and more destructive than ever. These blazes share many of the same characteristics as the firestorm that ripped through northern California’s wine country last October, which at the time were the deadliest in state history.

KQED reporters Lisa Pickoff-White, Marisa Lagos and Sukey Lewis are looking back at last year’s fires, and what we can learn from the crucial decisions that were made in the first hours of those disasters. We join Sukey in the hills above the city of Santa Rosa, where a sheriff’s deputy is stumbling through the dark, choking on smoke, trying to get residents to safety.

Despite many calls like this, it would be another hour, nearly 2:00 AM before authorities start calling people in Fountain Grove and telling them to evacuate. power quiz questions Then the fire rips across Highway 101, a six-lane freeway that runs through the middle of the city. Residents on the other side of that freeway, in Coffee Park, a dense neighborhood well within Santa Rosa city proper, wake up to flames in the middle of the night.

That weather event means more counties are getting hit by hurricane-force gusts of up to 80 miles per hour, and people are continuing to call 911, reporting electrical problems, surging power lines, and explosions. And they’re not just sparking new fires, they’re preventing first responders from doing their job. Because they’re not supposed to touch or even drive over a power line until electrical workers can guarantee the line is dead.

He said he needed help, so I got him over to the back of my patrol, and at that point I was realizing that he had had significant burns to his hand as well as his face. electricity research centre And I asked him his name, and he kind of cocked his head to the side. Which, "Brendan, why are you asking me this?" And that’s when I realized that I knew whoever this person was. And when he told me his name, my heart just sank.

So I had a vantage point of basically the entire area on the valley floor that had burned. And it was surreal. It was hard to imagine what I was seeing. Again, it’s a community that a lot of us have called home for a long time. And to witness that amount of devastation, and still not know how many people we had missing, it was … Yeah, it was just gut-wrenching to see that.

Well we don’t know what sparked the biggest and deadliest, the Tubbs Fire, which was the one which hit the city of Santa Rosa. But in about 16 other cases throughout the Northern part of the state, we do know that the electrical utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, or PG&E, is being blamed by state investigators. And in many of those cases, we also know that the state says that PG&E acted negligently, and that they did not upkeep their electrical equipment to the standards they’re expected to by law.

Yeah, that’s right. In the spring PG&E did come out and say that they were changing their policy, that they now, in certain conditions where it’s very hot and dry and the winds are very strong. They may in some situations tell residents that they could lose their power. And we actually did see them do that once this fall, but they did not do it in Butte County where the Camp Fire broke out. And so there’s questions being raised about whether that was the right decision.

For about 100 years the state and federal officials really worked to aggressively suppress fires in wildlands. And what happens is that means a lot of dry fuel has built up over that time. But this is well beyond just a forest management problem in California. We’ve had really extreme drought conditions in California. The heat that we’re seeing year round, which many attribute to climate change. So to say that this is a just an issue of cleaning out more dead brush and trees is to really over-simplify a problem that has just exploded in its magnitude over the last couple years.

We’re gonna keep investigating the effects of wildfires, including the smokey air that has blanketed much of California this year. If you had to get treatment for heart or breathing problems, or if you treated people for conditions related to smoke, get in touch with us. Just text the word fire to 63735. Again, text fire to 63735. You can text stop at any time, and standard data rates apply. Back in a minute, this is Reveal.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Wildfires used to come around once a year, wildfire season. grade 9 electricity unit test But lately, they’re happening year round. They’re getting bigger, and burning hotter. But there’s another reason fires are getting deadlier and more destructive. It has to do with how and where we build. We wanna share a story with you that we aired earlier this year, investigating what is now only the second most destructive fire in California history, the Tubbs Fire. It’s the one that burned down the neighborhoods of Fountain Grove and Coffee Park last October. It killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,000 buildings. Most of those buildings were in the city of Santa Rosa, but the fire started miles outside of town, and came through hills that months later are a mix of blackened oak and the first new shoots of green grass.

No, it actually isn’t. And it’s actually pretty common throughout the country. This fire-prone area that we’re talking about, the wildland-urban interface, this is where homes and vegetation collide and mix together. In Sonoma County, the population of these areas grew by about 20% over the course of two decades. That’s actually right at the national average.

What they’re dealing with, apart from the immediate disaster of the fire, is that everyone who was displaced in the fire, those are all taxpayers as well. And so the city is facing a multi-million dollar shortfall in its budget. So they wanna get people rebuilding, made whole and back into their homes in Santa Rosa as quickly as possible. They even set up an office to expedite the permitting process for people who wanted to rebuild their homes. inert gas definition chemistry We revisited there right when they were just putting it together, basically.

And that’s not a unique sentiment. I’ve actually covered multiple fires, and the recovery process afterwards, and that instinct to rebuild and rebuild quickly is actually fairly common. But it’s not just rebuilding, it’s developers who are coming in and seeing opportunity in these scorched lots. Researchers have found evidence to suggest that new home construction can actually out-pace rebuilding efforts after a wildfire.

Well we didn’t have to wait too long to see that. Because almost immediately after the fire, there was a development called Round Barn Village. So before this building can get started, the City Council needs to decide to change the land use from commercial to residential. But it would put about 237 townhomes in hills sort of adjacent to Fountain Grove.

That seems to be the prevailing sentiment. Stuff like fire-resistant materials, double-pane windows, screens on your vents. But I’m not sure the building codes would’ve saved homes in this particular fire. About 94% of the homes that were built to the standards that that fire marshal was talking about, still burned. Our analysis found that there were 261 homes that had all these things in place. All but 16 of them were destroyed or damaged.

Yeah, generally speaking I would say so. And we’ve seen this in areas like Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina. These are all places that have lost homes to fires over the past few years, and new houses are being built. They’re rebuilding in places that have burnt before. And it’s entirely possible that they’re gonna burn again. The other thing we know is that fires are actually gonna increase in severity and frequency throughout the country, not just in the Western states. So we can expect to see this story again and again and again.

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