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Northern Californians Frustrated By Lack Of Information On Fire


There are wildfires burning up and down California in what has become one of the state's worst fire seasons in recent history. Firefighters have made some gains as they try to contain the largest blaze, which is known as the Carr Fire. But residents there say they're frustrated by the lack of up-to-date and personalized information about that fire and the state of their homes. Sam Harnett from member station KQED reports.

SAM HARNETT, BYLINE: Bob and Pat Franciscus had to evacuate their homes late last week.

So what - did you guys get, like, a phone call or like...


HARNETT: How'd you know?

PAT FRANCISCUS: The flames (laughter).

B. FRANCISCUS: We seen the flames come over top of the ridge.

P. FRANCISCUS: There was no notification, really.

HARNETT: Many residents, like Lea Flanagan, wanted updates on their smartphones. She says she had no idea the fire was so intense.

LEA FLANAGAN: I mean, there was so much smoke in - just a tornado of smoke. I just was in awe. I was such in shock. And I was like, we're leaving now.

HARNETT: Flanagan and her two sons are now camped out on cots at Shasta College. It's one of about a dozen evacuation centers. Many of the people here have nowhere else to go. Dawn Fowler is a nurse working in the evacuation center for the first time. Speaking with her at a Mexican restaurant after her shift, she says...

DAWN FOWLER: I had no idea that it was going to be such hands-on assistance that was going to be required.

HARNETT: The fire brought out so many people in this rural city who are already struggling. There are sick and elderly residents who don't have the resources to stock extra medication. There are people addicted to opiates and going through withdrawal, people with no safety net, no family. All their worldly possessions are now trapped inside an apartment or a trailer in the evacuation zone. It's all taken a toll on Fowler.

FOWLER: Last night was my breaking point.

HARNETT: Almost 40,000 people have been temporarily displaced by this fire. Most will be able to go home, but when is still up in the air. That's causing frustration that officials tried to tamp down at a big community meeting earlier this week. At the meeting, the Shasta County fire chief unveiled something new, an online map with updated information about the status of people's homes. But unlike, say, Google Maps, there aren't teams of developers and piles of advertising money behind this map. It's manually updated and may contain errors.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So there's a possibility, a strong possibility that this is going to continually change.

HARNETT: Residents at the meeting asked how they could learn when they were going to go home. The Shasta County sheriff, Tom Bosenko, said people should keep tuned to local media, like TV and radio.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: In the city of Redding, west of Overhill Drive and north of 299 still under evacuation.

HARNETT: Since the fires first erupted, some local radio stations have broken programming to run live call-in shows.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Back to the phones. Good afternoon. You're on KQMS.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Hey, this is Rick again. Yeah, they closed St. Marks off on both sides again.

HARNETT: Residents are also asking firefighters or reporters to take pictures of their houses and text them. Lea Flanagan drives with her kids each day in hopes of getting back home.

FLANAGAN: I go every single day, though - twice a day sometimes to go see if I can - (unintelligible) pass the barriers or not.

HARNETT: Flanagan is a single mom and says she doesn't have fire insurance. She just wants to know if she can go back to her old life or if she's going to have to try and find some way to start all over again. For NPR News, I'm Sam Harnett.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Harnett