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Wildfire Rages Along California's Central Coast, Destroying Homes

Aug 4, 2016
Originally published on August 4, 2016 6:28 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A giant wildfire on California's central coast south of San Francisco keeps growing. It's moved away from the ocean and into deep, rugged valleys. It has scorched 80 square miles and destroyed nearly 60 homes. Firefighters are trying to steer the fire into a national forest to protect other property. From member station KAZU, Krista Almanzan reports.

KRISTA ALMANZAN, BYLINE: As helicopters fly overhead, a cloud of dark gray smoke rises into the sky. The sun appears red. But Steve Schuster stands in his driveway, relaxed. His house is tucked into the mountainside under a canopy of trees. The whole front yard is filled with animals. And Schuester is sipping on ice water from a mason jar.

STEVE SCHUSTER: Yeah, wait and see and just be ready to go if we have to.

ALMANZAN: Schuester and his wife have all their must-haves packed up inside the house. Their car is in the driveway, facing out. And then there are all those animals.

SCHUSTER: Oh, man, we have seven goats, 30 chickens, three ducks, four turkeys, six puppies, two dogs. And I think that's it (laughter).

ALMANZAN: Oh, wow, oh, wow.

SCHUSTER: Yes, I'm working now on a trailer to make my own little ark and kind of drive out with them.

ALMANZAN: With the fire at his back, Schuster's confidence comes from firefighters who have been out here working to get days ahead of this wildfire.

SCHUSTER: I'll probably stay here even when the fire comes because they've built such a beautiful firebreak. It's maybe a football field wide and miles and miles long.

ALMANZAN: Bulldozers have torn out a wide swath of trees and bushes, leaving nothing but dirt. Standing on a nearby hill, CAL FIRE'S Danny Cook points out that firebreak on the ridge behind Schuster's House.

DANNY COOK: We're fairly very confident that it'll hold. The fire's going to move up through that vegetation into the control line and stop. Fire goes out.

ALMANZAN: And where bulldozers can't go, firefighters can go on foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Right.

ALMANZAN: Wayne Key's crew out of southern Arizona is hiking a mile down a powdery dirt road to cut a line with hand tools and chainsaws.

Is that enough to stop the fire, or what happens next?

WAYNE KEY: It depends on the fire intensity. If it's coming at us hard, maybe not. But you know, if we put some fire down and, you know, light it, maybe we will have a good chance.

CORNISH: What he's talking about is back burning - setting controlled fires to destroy trees and shrubs before the wildfire can get to them. CAL FIRE'S Danny Cook says all these tactics combined help protect homes and herd the wildfire in the direction they want it to go, which is away from these remote homes and even deeper into this rugged country.

COOK: It's being pushed towards the Los Padres National Forest because it's not a lot of threat to structures out there. It's just a wild, open area.

ALMANZAN: Much of the fire is already in the Los Padres National Forest. And once it's all there, CAL FIRE says it could take until the end of the month before it's fully contained. For NPR News, I'm Krista Almanzan in California's Carmel Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.