Battalion chief on evacuation warnings, “new normal” of destructive wildfires

A deadly Northern California wildfire has forced about 40,000 people to evacuate. The so-called Carr Fire is one of nine major fires burning across California, and it’s blamed for at least six deaths. Investigators said the fire was caused by a vehicle.

One man, Ed Bledsoe, lost his wife and two great-grandchildren in the fire. He told CBS News correspondent Carter Evans he received “not a word” of warning ahead of its devastating approach.

Asked about how evacuation warnings work, Jonathan Cox, battalion chief for Cal Fire’s Northern California region, told “CBS This Morning” on Monday that Cal Fire has “air attack” planes that survey the progression of the fire. He said when the Redding fire “exploded” on Thursday, the air attack was coordinating with the sheriff’s office as well as police departments “to get warnings out ahead of this fire as much as possible.”

“What conditions we saw on the Thursday night here in Redding kind of are what people are calling a weather phenomenon or an anomaly where an actual, possible vortex came through here. And that’s literally fire behavior we’ve not experienced or seen or witnessed in a generation here in Northern California,” Cox said. “And unfortunately, you know, it tears at firefighters’ hearts to have any loss of life or injuries. I’ve heard stories of firefighters bringing family members out and having the windows of their cars explode from the conditions that were out there. So the number one priority for us is always getting people out as quickly as possible and it always breaks our heart when we can’t get everybody out.”

The Carr Fire has burned nearly 100,000 acres and is about 20 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. More than 850 buildings have been destroyed.

Cox said the rise in the number of wildfires over the last several years has been “the new normal” in California.

“We’ve seen larger and more destructive fires year over year, and unfortunately this year doesn’t look to be any different,” he said.

As for resources, Cox said they have placed 150 additional engines from other states in priority areas, and they have the ability to draw from the National Guard.

“So unfortunately this new normal is kind of upon us in California, more deadly, more destructive fires, more often – and it’s obviously requiring additional resources not just from California but from throughout the United States to get ahead of it,” Cox said.

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