Americas

Fleeing California wildfires '10 times harder' during epidemic

CLOVIS, UNITED STATES (AFP) – It is not the first time that Ms Leanna Mikesler has evacuated her home in the California mountains because of wildfires, but during an epidemic it is “10 times harder”.

Ms Mikesler and her husband fled with only their most important documents, and, as she walks her dog at an emergency Red Cross facility in Clovis in the centre of the state, she says she fears their property may be destroyed.

“The fire is right around it,” she says of her home in Meadow Lakes, in the Sierra National Forest where the Creek fire is raging.

“They call… the evacuation. And then you go from there to see if your house has been burned down,” Ms Mikesler says slowly, adding she has seen aerial images of firefighters battling to save her small community with water bombers.

Since the authorities notified them on Saturday (Sept 5) through loudspeakers to evacuate, the couple has been living in a subsidised hotel room because the usual emergency facility – a gymnasium filled with hundreds of beds – is not an option during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Red Cross has provided meals for evacuees sheltering in the hotels.

Ms Cindy Huge, a spokeswoman for the aid charity based in a local high school, said: “There’s over 600 people… and food has been delivered to them in disposable containers, three meals a day and snacks and water.”

Another evacuee, 69-year-old David Mascarini, told AFP he fled his home with his wife and dog, and after spending one night in a hotel he had to approach the Red Cross because there were no more rooms available.

The grey-bearded Mascarini says he cleared the brush from around his home in the hope that the flames would not take hold, but he doesn’t know if it will work.

“I hope, hope it works out,” he said.

At least 60 homes have already been destroyed by the Creek blaze, according to the California fire agency, and some communities nestled in the mountains have been turned into ghost towns.

Lines of smoke rise from the mountains as if they are billowing from chimneys, while logs still smoulder and small fires burn on the roads.

In the distance, helicopters and planes battle the blazes.

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