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SoCal Wildfire Victim Tells Her Story


We're going to start the program today in Southern California, where six large wildfires continue to burn out of control. Since the beginning of the week, thousands of people have been forced to evacuate. More than 100,000 acres have burned, and nearly 800 structures have been destroyed so far. One of those structures was the home of Lorrie and Jake Colburn of Ojai, Calif.

LORRIE COLBURN: My husband had put his heart and soul into building it and making it what we wanted.

MARTIN: Lorrie is a retired nurse. Her husband, Jake, is a contractor and carpenter who ran his business out of a home workshop and spent decades perfecting their house.

COLBURN: That's where we'd live. That's where we raised our children. It was a wonderful gathering place.

MARTIN: Lorrie Colburn says that living in the foothills of Ojai, the prospect of wildfire was something they'd learned to live with.

COLBURN: We've had several wildfires before, and that's why neither one of us were that worried because it had always easily not come down the canyon where we lived. This time, we saw it start up at the top of the hill behind our home and that was about 7:30 on Monday night. And by 8:30, we had to get out of there. There were embers coming down on our deck, but I still didn't think that it would be completely gone.

MARTIN: But it was. When the Colburns returned to the property the following day, there was nothing left.

COLBURN: It looks like a war zone. It just looks like a bomb went off. Trees are all gone. And the house and the shop are total rubble.

MARTIN: Colburn says that while she and her husband have received overwhelming support from family and friends, she still worries about the wider community.

COLBURN: We are only a fraction of the number of people that have been impacted by this. I've never seen anything like this - ever. Ventura County's been decimated basically.

MARTIN: Janet Upton with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says these fires, along with the ones in Northern California this fall, have made 2017 a record fire season.

JANET UPTON: Our Southern California region of Cal Fire has a seasonal force that would normally be laid off this time of year and come back late spring. They haven't let anyone go. We also have an air force of over 90 aircraft in theater down in Southern California. That's unheard of in December.

MARTIN: Upton says that authorities have made some progress in recent days, but that even with the 8,500 firefighters that are currently working the California fire lines, ongoing dry and windy conditions mean that the danger posed by these fires is still far from over.

UPTON: I don't think there's an end in sight for the foreseeable future. I think we're going to be celebrating Christmas and the holidays on fire line, unfortunately. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.