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Chico Battles 'Most Destructive Fire' In California History


We're joined now by Sean Morgan. He's the mayor of Chico, Calif., which is located about 90 miles north of Sacramento.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for talking to us right now.

SEAN MORGAN: Well, thank you for having me. And anything we can do to get the word out is good for us and good for the people of Paradise.

MARTIN: Well, they're telling us that this is the most destructive fire in state history and, sadly, one of the deadliest. One of your neighboring towns, Paradise, has by all accounts been almost completely destroyed. And I think a lot of people got a sense of this when the Sacramento Kings' basketball arena, which is about a hundred miles away, was visibly smoky inside last night. So could you just describe what it's like where you are?

MORGAN: Well, you know, it doesn't surprise me about Sacramento. We've heard that San Francisco is having problems with their air quality. It - particularly Thursday, Friday and yesterday, it was thick in the city of Chico. It was just a big, black cloud. The sun did not come through. It was cold. It looked like it was going to start snowing. And, in a way, it was except that it was ash, so you couldn't really see. Lots of ash in the air.

This morning, Sunday, when I woke up, you could actually see blue sky in the city of Chico. But the wind has shifted again, starting to get hazy again. And that - those aren't clouds. That's just all smoke. But it was very, very bad and very, very cold because it was keeping the sun out.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of how many people are still under threat?

MORGAN: You know, it's hard to say because the change in the wind could mean Chico would be. If the fire jumped Lake Oroville, the city of Oroville could be. The city of Stirling City still is. So the fire seems to be moving more into the hills and mountains - so less big municipalities, but there's still people there. But, as far as an accurate number of thousands, I don't know.

MARTIN: And I understand that one of your big challenges right now is just - is the logistics of trying to sort of...


MARTIN: ...Manage everything kind of coming at you. But, I mean, part of being a mayor is being kind of - right? - one-on-one in touch with people. I'm just wondering how your constituents are doing. What are they saying to you?

MORGAN: You know, the people that are hurting are the residents of Paradise. So the Paradise mayor, the town council - I've been in contact with all of them. All of their residents are now in Chico, so Chico has grown by 50,000 people in the last three days. So the challenge for the city of Chico is accommodating all of those evacuatees (ph). And we are happy to do it. We've done it before. We did it with Oroville. Now the Oroville residents want back. So our challenge in the coming days will be rewriting policies, making sure our public works people and our emergency response crews can make sure we can find semi-permanent housing for all of our new residents unless - and when they can go back to Paradise, if they decide to.

MARTIN: That's Mayor Sean Morgan of Chico, Calif.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much.

MORGAN: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.