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Thousands Evacuate As California Wildfires Continue


The wind keeps blowing, and the fires keep burning. The wildfires in Northern California are quickly becoming some of the most deadly in that state's history. Twenty-three people have now been confirmed dead. Hundreds more have been reported missing, though emergency officials are hopeful most of those people are OK and that the number is just a result of chaos and miscommunication. More than 3,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed, and the fires are still burning. NPR's Nate Rott is in Sonoma County, which has seen a lot of the devastation from these fires.

Nate, what has happened overnight? How do things look at this point?

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: So there was a lot of worry overnight because there were forecasts calling for 20- to 30-mile-per-hour winds here. We should say that's a far cry from, like, the 75 - 70-mile-per-hour winds that this area saw on Sunday night and Monday morning when these fires really blew up and, you know, burned neighborhoods and homes. But the winds are blowing. I was just outside a little while ago. I don't think they're blowing at the 30 miles per hour that some people were expecting, but that is going to cause these fires to move.

It's going to cause them to burn into areas that maybe haven't burnt yet. It could even cause them to burn some places that have burnt just partially, which is a huge concern for people that maybe thought they were out of the woods, and they're not. How much has burnt and where is a little harder to know. It's still early here. We're going to get a better idea as the day gets going.

MARTIN: These fires are moving so very quickly. People often don't have time to grab anything before they go. Authorities, though, I understand, are issuing even more evacuation orders. Are people getting out?

ROTT: Yeah, I've been getting texts about evacuation orders all night, and they've been evacuating entire towns, in some cases. I went to a couple of places yesterday that were under mandatory evacuation notices. North of the town of Sonoma, police had been driving around there, telling people on a loudspeaker that it was time to go. And people were heeding those warnings. They were stuffing their cars with belongings, doing the last-minute checks of their homes, making sure they have everything they want, and they need and they have to have.

It was a really kind of sad thing to see because there's a lot of people that had a lot of stuff they wanted to bring but couldn't. There's only so much you can fit in a car. That being said, there were some people who were not leaving, people that were trying to ride out the fire. I talked to one of those people. His name was Tony - Toby, I should say, Butispock. He said he and his wife and kids had left and that he was going to stay. And here's what he had to say.

I mean, knowing all that, being here when it was crazy - I mean, why - isn't that enough impetus to think, maybe I don't want to be here if it gets going that bad again?

TOBY BUTISPOCK: I have to stay. I have to stay. I feel that I have to stay. This is my home. You know, I've been here for over 20 years. My wife and kids are safe. My dog and cat are safe. Chickens - well, you know, I can let them out here any minute, and they could go fend for themself (ph). (Laughter) Somebody want some fried chicken?


BUTISPOCK: I don't - you know, yeah, I have to stay. I've got to. I can't just leave. If I - where am I going to go? You know, where am I going to go?

ROTT: Is there, like, a trigger you set for yourself that if you think, OK, if it hits this point, then I am out?

BUTISPOCK: When I can't see or breathe, I'll be crawling out of here (laughter).

ROTT: Might that be too late, though, if you're crawling out of here, you can't see?

BUTISPOCK: I guess I'll take that chance.

MARTIN: Wow, that's a tough calculation to make.

ROTT: Yeah, no kidding.

MARTIN: What now, Nate?

ROTT: Well, they're going to try to get these fires contained. That's the biggest thing right now. And then from there, they're going to try to figure out if some of those missing people are indeed victims or if there's just the byproduct of that miscommunication. And that's a grim thing to have to try to figure out.

MARTIN: Yeah. NPR's Nathan Rott covering the wildfires for us in Northern California - thanks so much, Nate.

ROTT: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.