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Winds fuel Southern California wildfires

Authorities on Friday announced the first death related to the most recent wildfires that are ripping through Southern California. More than 200,000 people have been evacuated and thousands of firefighters continue to battle at least six blazes fed by high winds and dry weather. Sharon McNary, a reporter with Southern California Public Radio, joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Joining me now via Skype from Ventura, California is Sharon McNary of KPC Southern California Public Radio. Sharon you've been out reporting already this morning. What have you seen?

  • SHARON MCNARY:

    The most moving thing I've seen is the people who are telling me about the loss of their homes. And these are people from every income level. I mean people who have luxurious cabins up in the woods and two people who had very modest homes down in the flats. It's still unclear from the authorities exactly how many dwellings have burned. The number of structures destroyed is 537 but some of the structures are very big apartment buildings. So the the loss of homes could be far larger.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I know the weather seems nice where you're standing but have the winds cooled down? Are the firefighters getting a better chance today to fight some of these?

  • SHARON MCNARY:

    Yeah today's winds are pretty calm. They're expecting it to kick up to that 10 to 20 miles an hour later today. But it's nothing like the 40 to 60 mile an hour gusts that we're seeing a couple of days ago. So what they're saying is that this fire has transitioned from a wind driven fire to a topography driven fire. So the terrain is what's going to determine where the fire goes.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And there are so many different fires to worry about. Are there areas that they're concerned where the fires are kind of slowly heading toward?

  • SHARON MCNARY:

    In this fire, the 'Thomas fire which is occupying a big piece of Ventura county on the coast of California. The fire is heading north on the coast toward the Santa Barbara County line in a city called Carpinteria. Last I checked it was about a mile from the county line. And then you kind of a big horseshoe shape that goes around Ojai. So many many homes in Ojai were saved but the north of Ojai extending again to the West into a wilderness area. That fire is running along the south slope of some mountains. It's also heading north into the Sespe Wilderness area and a potential Condor Sanctuary the Condor being the state bird of California.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Have you talked to some of the people who've been kind of now looking through the rubble of what's left of their homes? One woman I talked to, her husband had done an enormous amount wood work on this cabin. They lived in it and she thought they had a well protected house with fireproof shingles and you know all the protections and good brush clearance. The firestorm that came through Monday night was so strong, just a wall of flames and there was no chance of saving it. And so she's gone back. It's heartbreaking.

  • SHARON MCNARY:

    What about the air quality? It's affecting a much much larger swath of the population of Los Angeles even if they're not directly affected by the fires.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I hate to think of what I took into my lens of the years when I smoked but I'm feeling that same hit on the lawns. It's murky, it's dark, and with the wind not being as active it's just sitting on the terrain and it's just awful. You're in New York where people are talking about snow and it's snowing ash here. It's just miserable.

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