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California Fires Persist


The three massive wildfires spreading up and down California have killed at least nine people and have caused catastrophic damage. In Northern California, the town of Paradise has been destroyed. Further south, communities near Malibu and Thousand Oaks have had to leave their homes. Joined now by Stephanie O'Neill, who's been covering these fires. Stephanie, thanks for being with us.

STEPHANIE O'NEILL, BYLINE: You're welcome. Good morning.

SIMON: I gather they have some insight now as to what may have sparked some of these monumental fires.

O'NEILL: Well, we just got some word that Pacific Gas and Electric, PG&E - they informed state regulators that they had an incident early on Thursday. It was about the same time that the fire started. So this incident happened on a major electrical transmission line. And then it's not clear whether the fires caused that problem or whether that caused the fire.

But what we do know in California is that these transmission lines have been the point of origin for many of these fires - these deadly fires.

SIMON: And PG&E has been turning off the power when there are high winds - right? - to avoid that.

O'NEILL: To a certain extent, apparently, that's one of the ways to do it. And this, again, was one of the fires. In California, we've been having the worst fire season ever on record. And again, these high winds cause all kinds of problems in the transmission lines. They arc. They cause sparks. And when you're in these areas with all this vegetation - again, drought-stricken vegetation in California - it's just, you know, ripe for these massive wildfires.

SIMON: What kind of progress, or lack thereof, have firefighters been able to make to try and contain the fires?

O'NEILL: Well, let's see. In Butte County, 90,000 acres is - more than 90,000 acres have been burned, and it's only at 5 percent containment at last count, so that's not very much. Again, the fires are fueled by winds and all this fuel. So it's going to be a real tough one working there.

In Southern California - well, up in Northern California, that's the Camp fire, they call that one. You know, it's just lots of homes in the little town of Paradise totally destroyed - 6,700 homes, they're saying. So it's going to be a very destructive fire and really traumatic for the people who live there - senior citizens and so forth - who are, you know, not going to come home to homes.

In Southern California, we have 35,000 acres burned so far - more than that, actually, by now. And today is a good day because the winds are starting to slow down. Just for today, for a little while, there will be a reprieve. And so, hopefully, they'll get a handle on that before high winds strike again.

SIMON: And, of course, the extraordinary story of Thousand Oaks - a mass shooting there killed 12 people, and now that same community has to evacuate. That's an awful lot of suffering for one city.

O'NEILL: It's unbelievable. I covered that mass shooting on Thursday. And these fires started just hours after that. And now with the fire evacuations, funerals and blood drives have been put on hold. It's completely traumatic for the community of Thousand Oaks. But, you know, as pointed out by their mayor, the shooting's a permanent tragedy, and these fires, as tough as they are, are something we all can and will recover from.

SIMON: Stephanie O'Neill is a reporter who's based in Southern California. Thanks so much for being with us.

O'NEILL: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Stephanie O'Neill