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“Everything was on Fire”: CA Resident Describes Fleeing 30-Foot-High Flames Surrounding Her Ranch

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In California, at least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 people still displaced. Some residents had to flee for their lives, as drought conditions and powerful, erratic winds have contributed to the explosive spread of the fires. Among those who had to flee was Jan Hoyman, a pottery artist who narrowly escaped the fire in Mendocino County last week. We speak to her from her studio in Ukiah, California.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Jan Hoyman now, who is in Ukiah, in Northern California, a pottery artist who narrowly escaped the fire in Mendocino County last week. Jan, thanks so much for being with us. Can you describe what happened to you?

JAN HOYMAN: OK. I awoke Monday morning really early—I’m not sure what time—to the sound of a locomotive, but then there were the pops of propane tanks exploding. I smelled smoke. I looked out the window, and I knew the fire was right there, right next to me. I grabbed my dog, and I’m in my nightgown. As I’m running to my car, my neighbor is coming down the hill with—I live remotely—coming down the hill honking her horn. I jump in my car, go down the ranch road, and there she is. Her car is stuck in the road. She jumps in with her four kids.

Now the flames are 20 to 30 feet tall on both sides of our ranch driveway. Everything’s on fire. We’re trying to get out to the main road. There is a pine tree down in the middle of the road, on fire. Instead of turning around, we back up and go very quickly, as fast as we can, to a place where we can then try to go across the vineyards. They were on fire. We turned and started to go uphill back towards her house. When we were about halfway up to her house—and maybe the road is two miles long—and then we could start to breathe a little bit easier. The kids were nice and calm the whole time. The fire wasn’t all around us at this point.

We did get to her home. And her husband and the four kids, Charlotte and I jumped into their four-wheel-drive trucks and drove to another spot. I have hiked to this spot many times, but I could not have found it in the dark. She and her husband were just the savior for me at this point. I helped them by getting the kids in the car. They helped me by getting to Rattlesnake Rock.

We then hiked, in the dark, with the kids, flashlights in hand, up and down a ravine a couple of times to another neighbor’s house. And this is maybe three-quarters of a mile away. Now the fire is farther down in the valley, but we can see it encroaching, coming closer. Her husband found a four-wheeler in the shed of the neighbor, who had left days earlier. There were keys in the ignition. We were quite lucky about that. He found a trailer to put behind us, and now all seven of us drove down the road on the four-wheeler. We’re watching the fire come up the mountainside at this point.

We get to another neighbor’s house. They’re watching the fire. And they don’t know if they’re going to evacuate. We have a flat tire. But one of the young men kindly took us in his truck to Willits. Now, driving—we hiked out, but to drive to Willits usually takes about a half an hour, if you have clear roads. So we wound our way on the back mountainous roads to the Willits evacuation center, which was the police station and community center.

AMY GOODMAN: Jan, was there a mandatory evacuation in your area? I think what people don’t understand who are not experiencing these fires is how fast they come up. Why hadn’t you left until the point when you did? That’s what I think a lot of people can’t understand.

JAN HOYMAN: That’s a great question. Well, my electricity was out, and my cellphone wasn’t working. And that’s how I receive messages, through my cellphone. When the electricity went down and the cell towers went down because the fire was moving so quickly, there was no way to let people know how quickly they needed to move. Yes, there was mandatory evacuation, but I had no idea that that was happening. You know, to rely on the cell system, cellphone system, to let people know what’s happening is really a faulty idea, at least in our area, because the towers go down.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think state and local officials should have done more? And what do you think should happen at the federal level?

JAN HOYMAN: You know, I cannot make a comment on that, because I’m just a person here living, and I know that there are so many different complicated issues around it. Yes, I think, in general, we need to prepare more for these kind of catastrophes. And my personal opinion is that we, as a community—the ranch I live on had about 20 different homes on it and scattered around about a thousand acres. And I think we, as a small community, need to try to investigate and put together a system that we can warn each other.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you know if your home still exists?

JAN HOYMAN: My home is melted, basically. I had a cement—excuse me, stucco walls and a metal roof. And maybe there’s parts of it standing, but really there’s no home left. I do have some photographs that a neighbor took. I haven’t been allowed back into the area. There’s still mandatory evacuations in the area.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me turn to the climate scientist Daniel Swain. How toxic is the ash, is the smoke in these areas?

DANIEL SWAIN: Well, I am certainly not an expert in the composition of wildfire smoke. But, you know, the smoke in these fires, you have to remember, especially when they burn through populated areas, it isn’t just wood smoke and particulate matter from the brush and grass, as you’d get during truly a wildfire. What you’re also getting is compounds that are combusting in people’s homes and businesses that are burning, as well, and so you have this—what must be a pretty volatile mix of stuff up there in these plumes, when they start burning urban areas.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Daniel Swain, I want to thank you for joining us from UCLA, climate scientist in Los Angeles. And Jan Hoyman, all the best to you, your community. Thank God you escaped. Jan Hoyman, an artist who escaped the fire in Mendocino County.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, who is a “black identity extremist”? And why is the federal government putting out reports on them? Stay with us.

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