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Gains Made Against California Fire

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Firefighters are reporting some progress today in battling the massive wildfire outside Los Angeles. Higher humidity has helped push the flames away from populated areas and back into the wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains, but the fire continues to spread. Molly Peterson of member station KPCC joins us now from Los Angeles. She was at the Fire Command Center today. And, Molly, what is the latest on how much is burned? How dangerous this fire continues to be?

MOLLY PETERSON: Well, Melissa, the fire grew overnight but not by much. It's about 122,000 acres - to put that in perspective, maybe 50 miles across they're saying they're fighting back and forth. They're saying about 50 or so structures were burned and destroyed. But the weather is taking a favorable turn with high humidity and just light winds. And they did say that they made some progress overnight and today.

So what's new today, as Incident Commander Mike Dietrich kind of reported this morning, is that - is the sense that they're going to be able to get a handle on this fire sooner rather than later. Let's listen to him.

Mr. MICHAEL DIETRICH (Incident Commander, U.S. Forest Service): Yesterday, I characterized the fire as angry. Today, I'm going to characterize it as cranky because it's kind of taking on a life of its own. And it's just going to be very difficult to deal with, and I'm not sure why.

BLOCK: So the fire is growing, not growing as fast?

PETERSON: That's right.

BLOCK: And, Molly, what more can you tell us about the weather? You mentioned how that's been a factor here in turning things around.

PETERSON: Well, the high - I'm sorry - the relatively low humidity was replaced overnight and into today by some warm moisture in the air. And there was a threat of thunderstorms and dry lightning. There's a greater wind concern today, which is more of a common problem for Southern California wildfires, and that's kind of lending the air of unpredictability to this fire still. But generally, the temperatures are dropping and there's been more moisture in the air.

BLOCK: Molly, we've heard a lot over the last few months of California's financial distress. And we're wondering how the state can afford to fight this fire and others. How much is this costing?

PETERSON: We think the state wonders that, too. Overall, the budget is $182 million for emergency firefighting this fiscal year, which has significantly increased over the last year, which I think the total amount for last year was something on the order of less than half that. We've already spent 106 million of the 182 million, which means that the state is already looking at dipping into an emergency fund and emergency reserve it's got and has applied to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for six grants to try to help them offset the cost of these fires.

BLOCK: Molly, you spent time today at the fire command center. What was your sense of the mood among those firefighters who've been working so hard fighting this massive fire?

PETERSON: I think it's more positive, generally. I also had a sense, though, that - you know, they were pleased by the decrease in temperatures. On a day when it was 107 degrees a couple of days ago over the weekend, there was a firefighter who had kidney failure because - not because he was being poorly managed or because he wasn't - but just because the conditions were so adverse. So, I think there's a sense that they could fall into a routine and really work at this for, you know, in the next couple of weeks.

BLOCK: And again, two firefighters who died over the weekend.

PETERSON: That's right, with memorials planned coming up.

BLOCK: Reporter Molly Peterson of member station KPCC. Thank you very much.

PETERSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Molly Peterson
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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