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Unrelenting fires continue to ravage Northern California

Wildfires are again devastating Northern California’s wine country, with dozens of homes and thousands of acres burning this week alone. More than 8,000 wildfires have raged across the state this season, destroying over 7,000 buildings and nearly 5,800 square miles. Weary fire crews are struggling to keep up the effort to contain the blazes amid difficult weather conditions. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Northern California, wildfires are again devastating Wine Country, destroying dozens of homes, burning thousands of acres and killing at least four people this week.

    More than 8,000 wildfires have already killed at least 29 people in the state overall this season. And the fires have destroyed more than 7,000 buildings, burning nearly 6,000 square miles.

    Stephanie Sy has the latest.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Napa and Sonoma counties, the nights are lit up with huge flames. Firefighters in some cases battle blazes house by house and are confronting a fire that quadrupled in size in less than two days.

    There's been little relief for more than 2,000 firefighters involved in the effort and not much progress yet against the Glass Fire. It broke out Sunday and quickly merged with two other fires. The Zogg Fire to the north in Shasta County has consumed another 50,000 acres. Tens of thousands of people have evacuated and at least 80 homes have been destroyed in the Glass Fire.

  • Mike Christianson:

    It's a very sobering thing to find out that all you have worked for and all of that your parents have worked for in a moment is gone.

  • Muiz Torres:

    We lose our home. I mean home, home, where we go and where we get together.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Some residents have stayed to try and save their homes. Today, authorities warned evacuees not to return too quickly.

  • Jon Crawford:

    I just want to remind people that the evacuated zones are dangerous. There is still active fire. There are trees falling without warning. There are power — excuse me — power poles that are down, wires on the ground.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Some, like Laura Colgate and her husband, have been fortunate. Their home survived, but their neighbors have not been so lucky.

  • Laura Colgate:

    It was so surreal, and we had no idea the house was still there. So, when we drove up and saw the house, we were kind of like, oh, my God, this is a miracle.

    But just looking at everything else, none of the neighbors were left, the lady across the road here gone. All these people's things were gone. I mean, it was just like pure devastation.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Sonoma and Napa communities already have been grappling with major wildfires this summer.

  • Chris Canning:

    This is a slow-moving, creeping fire, if you will, at this point. But it is literally on our doorstep.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    That's Chris Canning, the mayor of Calistoga. His entire city of 5,000 residents is under mandatory evacuation. He says the winds have died down.

  • Chris Canning:

    No wind is good, but no wind is also bad, because it doesn't allow the smoke to clear, which doesn't allow air tanker support to come in at this point.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Talk about the fire behavior you're seeing. Is there anything any more concerning about this year's season than last year's or 2017's? I mean, the last four years have all been bad.

  • Chris Canning:

    They have. And every year, unfortunately, seems to get worse and worse. And we're setting new records.

    This year, our fire season started very early. First week of September, we had our first significant fire out here. Here we are again. It's not even October, which is traditionally the fire season, our peak of fire season, if you will. And these fires are faster, larger.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    This part of Northern California suffered devastating personal losses and property damage back in 2017 from the Tubbs Fire; 22 people were killed in one of the most destructive fires in California history.

  • Brian Fies:

    When our house burned down in 2017, it seemed like the kind of firestorm disaster that might happen every 50 or 100 years.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Brian Fies is an artist and writer whose home in Santa Rosa burned down in that fire. He wrote a graphic novel about that experience, and had just rebuilt his house when John Yang visited him in 2019.

    Despite anxious moments in this past week, he does feel safer in his current house, which was built with new codes in place.

  • Brian Fies:

    I still think rebuilding was worth the risk for us. And our new house is sort of a testament to that. It's — I'm not going to say it's fireproof. Nothing is.

    But I think a repeat of 2017 in my neighborhood is unlikely, although I wasn't that confident last Sunday night, when I was packing up in case we needed to evacuate.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Scientists say climate change is making conditions ripe for larger and more intense wildfires.

    Forest management practices have also left too much fuel for the fire. But people continue to build in areas that abut wildlands. Fies says the events of just the past years are leading some people to rethink their assumptions.

  • Brian Fies:

    A lot of our neighbors and friends are talking about trying to find somewhere safe. But, with climate change, safe and risk are moving targets. Where is safe?

  • Chris Canning:

    People can have the debates they want to have about climate change. We are experiencing it firsthand. This is not normal, but it's becoming repeated year after year after year. We have to make changes.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Firefighters have their work cut out for them, as the forecast calls for winds to pick back up, along with hotter temperatures over the next several days.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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