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Thousands Evacuate As Southern California Wildfire Spreads


Also this morning, we're tracking a massive wildfire that is tearing through an area just north of Los Angeles. It started Monday night. It's already burned 50,000 acres and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate. John Sepulvado of member station KQED is in Ventura County near the fire and joins us.

Hi, John.


GREENE: So paint a picture of what you're seeing. How bad is this?

SEPULVADO: It is - the smoke is suffocating. I was in Santa Barbara County yesterday, which is not the site of the fires. But there were just massive amounts of smoke that was trapping in the mountains there. Then when you look at the flames - so then as I was driving in last night and the mountains - the famous kind of California coastal mountains were silhouetted against the black. There was this rim of fire, and you could see it for as long as you could look.

And one of the things that we saw last night, actually, was that this fire, which was very much in the hills, very much inland, has now reached the sea and, in fact, jumped the 101, which is the kind of iconic coastal route in that particular stretch of California. And the fire has now hit the Pacific Ocean.

So this is a huge series of fires, and it should be noted it's not just one. There are at least three major fires right now in Southern California. And it is of great concern because of these Santa Ana winds, as they're known, very fierce banshee-like winds that just roll through the region towards the sea.

GREENE: So this could get a lot worse, I mean, if those winds keep blowing this way.

SEPULVADO: Yeah. And last night (inaudible)...

GREENE: John? You still there?

SEPULVADO: It was interesting because...

GREENE: OK. Sorry. We lost you for a second.

SEPULVADO: Yeah, I apologize. Part of the problem has been cell connection. Right? So these winds not only are spreading the fire, but they're also knocking down the communication towers that are needed for folks to get the alerts so that they can get out of the area. So I'm having problems with connectivity...

GREENE: But more importantly, people who are being told to evacuate or being warned about stuff are having trouble hearing those warnings, which makes me wonder - I mean, how many people, how many communities are really facing danger here?

SEPULVADO: There are quite a few. It's about four large communities north of Los Angeles - Ojai, Ventura, Thousand Oaks. And then in Los Angeles - well, in the San Fernando Valley - you have another, the fire that's burning in Sylmar, which is of concern. And then there are several acres that have caught in San Bernardino County, which - these are very heavy populated areas. And this is something that fire officials and the governor are watching very closely to make sure that they don't spread.

GREENE: All right, we're going to be following this very closely as John just said because these wildfires are coming close to population centers. And those Santa Ana winds are still blowing.

John Sepulvado from member station KQED is following all of this. We appreciate your time this morning, John.

SEPULVADO: Thank you, David.


John's from Southern California. He attended Journalism School at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. John's reporting has earned four Edward R. Murrow awards for investigations, and he shared in a Peabody for CNN's Gulf Coast Oil-Spill Coverage. He has also won numerous other national and regional awards for his investigative and multimedia coverage.

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