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Healdsburg, Calif., Mayor On His Town's Evacuation From Wildfires

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here in LA, a fire has been burning near the beloved Getty Museum. For much of yesterday, you could see this band of smoke stretching over the beaches of Santa Monica and out to sea. There were evacuations, a shutdown freeway but also a sense that this is life here. Then again, fast-moving wildfires are unpredictable. We saw one last year explode in Northern California, destroying much of the town of Paradise.

And Northern California is where firefighters are doing some of the hardest work right now battling the Kincaid fire. It has engulfed more than 74,000 acres in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. James Gore, the Sonoma County supervisor, described what it's been like.

JAMES GORE: These embers flying off will just jump into an area. And all of a sudden, you will see, in a wind event, in the middle of a vineyard, an acre go up in three minutes - and then an acre move to 20 acres in 20 minutes. And it is astounding to see the progression with the wind and the fact that the best they can do is really hold it off - hold it at bay.

GREENE: Now, that fire has forced thousands to flee, including residents of nearby Healdsburg. And that city's mayor, David Hagele, joins us on the line this morning. Mayor, thanks so much for taking a few minutes for us.

DAVID HAGELE: Good morning. I appreciate you having me on.

GREENE: So how close is Healdsburg to this fire right now?

HAGELE: The fire actually is very close to Healdsburg. It's, as the crow flies, less than a few miles. And we - we were very fortunate that, when we give the evacuation notice on Saturday, our community dropped everything and left.

And you know, I just heard about the reports of fires in Southern California as well. And with any one of these situations when an evacuation is given and the community responds like they did in Healdsburg, it really helps the first responders. They're able to have the room and the space to do what they need to do, to get the staging area set so that they're ready.

I was in Healdsburg on - early Sunday morning when the winds were picking up, right around 3 a.m., when things were really going south quick. And I drove up by our neighborhood, and I could see the massive show of force that was there. And I can't say enough to thank the various agencies - the regional agencies that have come together to support our community. It's been...

GREENE: That's great to hear.

HAGELE: ...Breathtaking.

GREENE: What are firefighters telling you? I mean, is - do they have this under control, or is there a chance that this fire could really explode again or others could start that could threaten communities again?

HAGELE: You know, they've done a really good job with the city of Healdsburg. In the city of Healdsburg, we haven't had any structures or homes or businesses burn. And they've been battling the flare-ups, hotspots. The briefings that Cal Fire gives, you know, they're attacking at every angle that they can. But I think the last I heard was that - last night, I think the - we were at 15% containment, which we still have a long way to go.

GREENE: It sounds like a lot of firefighters. I mean, they've been coming from all over the state, and they've just been exhausted. I mean, there are a lot of fires out there right now.

HAGELE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, there's a lot of - we have a lot of resources, and the governor has been great in providing the resources and making sure those get mobilized. And that's been - that's been very, very appreciated.

GREENE: You know, a lot of Americans know Sonoma County, obviously, for wine country. I mean, I was looking at the website for your city - I mean, just describing farm-to-table restaurants and wine country and beautiful countryside. I mean, I know the region relies a lot on tourism. Are you worried this might keep people from visiting, or are you worried about the regional economy because of this happening over and over again?

HAGELE: You know, I think anytime something like this happens, as an elected leader, you do - you do worry. But I do want to get the message out there. When - one week ago tonight, at 11 p.m., we got the call that we needed to open our evacuation center in Healdsburg. And within an hour, our city staff and Community Services Department, they had that place up and running, and we were able to welcome people that were being evacuated from neighboring towns.

And what people need to understand about Sonoma County and Healdsburg is, you know, when you have a hospitality industry, that goes through to everything we do. Our evacuation center was a place of comfort for people that were being displaced and dealing with a massive trauma and having to leave. We had translation services. We had Latino community outreach. We had mental health facilities. We had - you know, we accepted pets. There was a lot we did. And when you talk about farm-to-table dining, our world-class chefs bound together and were providing food. It was a bit - I mean, like, you could describe it as food to - farm to evacuation center. I mean, it was - that mentality goes through everything.

We had one contact with all of our hotels that we were able to coordinate and place people; one contact with all of our chefs - same thing.

GREENE: Wow. That's great to hear. It sounds like your community is really coming together. And we'll all be thinking about your community and hope people stay safe. David Hagele is the mayor of Healdsburg. His city is just a few miles away from where the Kincaid fire continues to burn this morning. Mayor, thanks so much for your time.

HAGELE: Thank you. I appreciate you covering our stories and keeping us in your thoughts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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