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Camp Fire In Northern California Almost Entirely Contained


The devastating Camp Fire in Northern California is mostly contained after about two weeks. At least 84 people have died. Many hundreds are still unaccounted for. We're joined now by Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott. He's the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Chief Pimlott, thanks so much for being with us.

KEN PIMLOTT: Oh, you're welcome. My pleasure.

SIMON: So it rained this week, which must've helped. But that also creates other problems, doesn't it?

PIMLOTT: Well, it certainly does. We've had about 1 to 2 inches of rain over the fire area in the last 24 hours, which has been very helpful in bringing the fire to containment and helping us get firefighters released from the fire, you know, and back home.

But, certainly, as the ongoing recovery efforts take place, you know, the search for additional victims of this fire - obviously, it makes that more challenging. And then also recognizing there are thousands of people out of their homes or that no longer have homes, and so ensuring they have shelter from the - this weather.

SIMON: And how do you do that? I mean, ensuring they have shelter from the weather can't be easy.

PIMLOTT: No. But the California Office of Emergency Services and FEMA have been working on this diligently. They've provided a broad reach for both temporary housing and shelter, utilizing local motels and other venues, working very closely with the Red Cross and then working long-term to find housing for individuals as they look towards the long-term recovery of this community.

SIMON: All these fires in the past year - are you running out of money?

PIMLOTT: California, decades ago, made significant investments recognizing wildland fire. And we continue to have access to an emergency fund. Governor Brown has made it very clear that whatever resources are necessary to combat these fires will be brought to bear.

SIMON: Well, that - which introduces the next question. Is there a fire season anymore, or has it become a way of life?

PIMLOTT: It's really a way of life in California. We may have periods of winter, like we're seeing now, with rain. But other parts of the state - for example, Southern California - is not receiving the rain that Northern California's receiving. So there are places in the state, at any given time of the year, where fire season-type conditions exist.

SIMON: What do you think California and the country needs to learn from what's happened over the past few weeks?

PIMLOTT: We need to recognize that fire is part of the landscape, and no matter how many resources we commit, reality is these kinds of fires are going to occur. And so that - we must ensure we have resilient communities. We need to make sure, as we look at new construction and rebuilding communities, that they're hardened so that they resist these kinds of fires. We need to ensure we have evacuation routes and that we have other infrastructure that's hardened that can, you know, be resilient or at least resist this intensity of fires.

SIMON: And recognizing that this isn't your decision to make, should people be living in all the areas they're living in?

PIMLOTT: You know, obviously, it's a challenge. People have a desire. They need be - you know, as our urban areas develop and become more populated, there's a continued pressure to move to these more rural areas to achieve that lifestyle. And with that, of course, come all of these risks.

And so everyone has a responsibility to make everyone aware of the risk that they're getting into when they move there. And that's the responsibility of real estate agents, of landowners, the insurance companies, the public sector - everyone.

SIMON: Chief, have you lost firefighters these past two weeks?

PIMLOTT: Fortunately, only three injuries reported on by Camp Fire during the course of the last several weeks, and just minor injuries on the other fires as well. And we are so thankful for that.

SIMON: Your men and women must be exhausted.

PIMLOTT: I think everyone's tired, but there's a resolve and a commitment to take care of the public. And we're certainly looking forward to a break here with the weather to get reset, get back and get a break because, as we've learned in the last several years, we could be back into having additional fires. We could have additional Santa Ana wind events in Southern California. Certainly could happen in a matter of weeks. And so we just want to get everybody back and rested.

SIMON: Ken Pimlott is director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Chief, thanks so much for being with us.

PIMLOTT: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.