California wildfire evacuees return home to rubble
2017-10-14 21:49:16

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND: Good evening and thanks for joining us.(1)

California officials say this week’s fast moving wildfires in the northern part of the state have killed at least 35 people, making them the deadliest in state history.(2)

The fires have destroyed close to 6,000 structures and forced the evacuation of 100,000 residents.(3)

Today, more than 10,000 firefighters battled 16 large wildfires that have burned more than 214,000 acres.(4)

California wine country has sustained the worst property damage, especially in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, fires there are only 45 percent contained.(5)

NewsHour Weekend special correspondent Joanne Jennings went to the Sonoma hillside town of Kenwood, where most residents have evacuated, and others are scouring the ruins.(6)

JOANNE JENNINGS, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND: Last Sunday night, Jim Perry went out for a night of dancing. He returned home exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.(7)

JIM PERRY: I’m a sound sleeper. I just smelled smoke; a terrible burning smell. That’s the only thing that woke me up.(8)

JENNINGS: By the time Perry awoke, all of his neighbors had evacuated, except one family.(9)

PERRY: I did hear their son scream, “the fire is coming in the back window,” and that’s all I heard(10)

JENNINGS: That family got out, but Perry, a machinist, decided to stay to protect the home his father built.(11)

PERRY: This whole field was on fire. Everything was on fire all at once all around me.(12)

JENNINGS: Armed with several garden hoses, rakes, and a leaf blower, Perry stayed up all night fighting the raging fire. He snapped a few photos.(13)

PERRY: Things were exploding. All the propane tanks exploded. It was like a war zone. I cannot describe it.(14)

JENNINGS: You could have died. Why did you stay?(15)

PERRY: Because it’s my house.(16)

JENNINGS: Perry’s friend Jay Gamel steps in to comfort him.(17)

JAY GAMEL: His dad build it.(18)

PERRY: I just couldn’t leave.(19)

JENNINGS: This once tranquil cul de sac is hard to recognize for those who knew it well. It’s now covered in ash, rubble, and the charred remains of vehicles.(20)

A stack of wheelchairs parked curbside in front of what was once a convalescent home. All eight elderly residents were evacuated safely.(21)

Though Kenwood is inside a mandatory evacuation zone, a handful of residents remained to help.(22)

In this rural, mountainside town, Shelly Lewis and Zach Power spend their days caring for animals left behind by evacuees.(23)

SHELLEY LEWIS: Here, kitty, kitty.(24)

JENNINGS: Their own home succumbed to the fires.(25)

LEWIS: Let’s turn there.(26)

JENNINGS: But they don’t want to dwell on what they’ve lost.(27)

LEWIS: As soon as I was done crying, I was like, “What can I do here?” And so this far outweighs my loss.(28)

After a little coaxing, they got these cows to come out of hiding and eat.(29)

LEWIS: The owner was really concerned about them. They haven’t had food or water for a few days.(30)

JENNINGS: Lewis has received dozens of requests from residents who fled in the middle of the night, leaving their animals behind.(31)

LEWIS: we are also the first eyes on the ground for individual homeowners like that.(32)

They are getting national news coverage of the general big picture, but they’re like what about my house, so we try to go to homes and send them back video and information.(33)

JENNINGS: At Kenwood Elementary school, a group of volunteers hastily clear brush and dried leaves from the building’s perimeter. Doug Zucker is leading the effort.(34)

DOUG ZUCKER: The Fire Department doesn’t have any time for preventative work like this, but if we lose the school, that’s the heart of the community. It’s almost more important than our homes.(35)

JENNINGS: The fire station is a hub for the volunteers and firefighting crews from every part of California and neighboring states.(36)

Capt Fernando Calderon and his crew drove 7 hours from Long Beach and worked 40 hours on the fire line.(37)

FERNANDO CALDERON: We’ve been working ever since, nonstop. Truly it’s a statewide effort to put this fire out. There is still lots of fire and lots of tragic devastation. It’s shocking.(38)

It’s really, really sad and hard for us to see. we are doing our best to keep the loss now to a minimum and just keep this fire from doing any more damage.(39)

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