« Reveal

Built to Burn

2018-03-14 | 🔗

Last year, California had its deadliest and most destructive wildfire season in recorded history. No fire killed more people or burned down more buildings than the Tubbs Fire. Reveal investigates what made the Tubbs Fire so devastating by delving into the history of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods. — Head over to revealnews.org for more of our reporting.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hey. It is your favorite host in all of pod custom. Now, for the rest of the year, I'm gonna be asking you to join us by becoming a member of reveal reveal is all about going deep, pulling on threads telling stories that matter for more than three years now reveal has been fighting a lawsuit. That's been jeopardizing our very existence of restoring. We, about an organization called planet aid. Our story raises serious questions about whether international aid was actually reaching the people. It was intended to help and what's more, our story was truthful and we stand by it. We believe it is our duty to fight attacks like this, but fighting a lawsuit comes at a huge costs, are legal fees alone totalled more than seven million dollars? Luckily, we have pro bono legal support to help our in house counsel, but it still takes significant resources, resources that should be used to do more public service journalists. This kind of investigative
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and they're burning hotter. Twenty seventeen was, deadliest you on record for wildfires in California, the most destructive of those fires It was a tubs fire in wine can kill twenty two people in burn down more than five thousand buildings, most of that been into Noma counties. Biggest sin Santa Rosa in neighborhoods, like coffee park and found Grove, but the fire. Started miles outside a town. He came through hills that months later, are a mix of blackened oak trees and the first who shoots of green grass, It's weird! It's like in a state of death in rebirth. At the same time, I drove out to a clearing between these hills to meet someone who saw the fire coming. His name is felt he seventy years old, and since he was a kid he's worked out, here is families Mountain home, rich cabins and barns that were turned into a bed and breakfast
and retreats him John. What are we looking at here was the large. It was three story, concrete house With a chimney made of petrified would now it's just a chimney and a pile of twisted rebar broken seem it we, instead, the inventory and boy doing inventories really is a tearful thing and I'll catch. You in your mind, why again to each room, ok, what was in there and very emotional when they came and tore it down and goes maybe two weeks weak recently selfish yeah, but it's hard as it was to lose the ranch. It wasn't unexpected everyone and John's family trains to fight wildfires. They even have their own fire truck because the ranch well is burned before this was the third time. The first time was in the thirties for John
born, but the second time was in nineteen sixty four. This is a newsreel from back, then the worst forest fires The history of northern California have laid waste A quarter of a million acres more than half a dozen buildings burned, but John still in high school. I was able to use one. Was able to use water from a near by swimming pool to help save the cabins his grandfather, The nineteen sixty four fire last year's tubs fire both started just a few miles from Johns Ranch and both of them loose from the hills to Santa Rosa. In fact, if you drawn outline of the nineteen sixty four fire on a map a fire on a map. It's kind right in exactly the same pattern as the one. This year I mean it burned almost identical, but with one key difference, even though these two fires burnt the same land, the fire in the nineteen sixty didn't, kill anybody.
Burn nearly as many homes and this one obvious reason when the fires came through in in the sixties, I am sure that the coming we have sent. A rose was not built up. The way it is now was almost nobody. In fact, Crap Grove was not built. Coffee park was a Hayfield coffee park lost more than fourteen hundred homes and lashes fire found Grove lost more than seven, one thousand, eight hundred and they'll, be allowed to rebuild and then they're going to do it again, but that a fire will come again there, but they rebuild their yeah. I do at least the way they had it. The way they had it-
dense neighbourhood of hilltop mansions, with Santa Rosa at their feet and rolling mountains in the distance. But now it's full of big, yellow machines, clearing the last chunks of Mc Mansion off of seamen. Foundations. I mean it, looks like they say the table ruins that you would see like in Greece or something those ruins tell a story. If you know wildfires like reveal data reporter Eric Cigar, you see that there are still an actual part of a building standing there there's, not a huge amount of space there. If you will about wildfires. You wanna be plenty space between you and anything that will burn their means, bushes and trees, but also other houses, If you have a huge house on small lot, you don't have a whole lot of like space to clear and defend yourself. If bushes,
houses or wildfire rocket fuel. This deep hillside is like a wild fire launchpad, because heat rises, but if a fire risk here so obvious, how did it all argued built in the first place? For that arrogant? I pulled in reveals pet. Michael's or it's the development fountain Grove sorted begins in the early seventys. When you ll Packard, wants to move up from Palo Alto and put a tech campus there. This is the human factor and age be sixty five. The first fully programmable pocket sized calculator, Hewlett, Packard, Filter Campos on part of it and the rest of it was basically worker house and that's what started his building spree out on the hillside and sort of one after another? These master plan community started popping up on the hills above Santa Rosa We see this from here. That's Eric Cigar again!
haven't animation here to show you how that growth looks ok, so what am I looking at here so up Eric shows me a time lapse, bird's eye view of Santa Rosa, and if you look great- where this dark spot is that is found grove on those dark, green hills at the edge of the city white. That's in line start appearing the houses and streets and in the late nineties they take over that's at him. Massive amount of growth in a relatively short period, tat right, so Eric all of these houses are going up in a fire prone. Wilderness area is a unique to this part of California. No one actually isn't, as actually pretty common through the country this fire upon area, they were talking about the wild man, urban interfaces, where homes and vegetation conical I've been mixed together and some
What county is that the population these areas grew by about twenty percent over the course of two decades, that's actually rate at the national average. Imagine what about people who move into these type of houses I mean, did they know about the fire Well, not really. We met with a woman named Susan Goran who moved in the nineties. We're a permanent home while we rebuild their own home just burn down. Those fellows were rescued in that her husband had a job at Hewlett, Packard and she and her husband, were both big outdoors. The natural beauty of Cinema County is what really pull this year and then our family was growing and we need a larger house. Sadly that house, in that entire neighbourhood is gone and those from prove that was in fact rose and so living on this new heavily treed hillside, really what they were. Therefore, an interest. In fact, is that one of the oak tree
These have been incorporated in the deck, in other words, the deck was built around the oak tree, and you could see the scars up the limbs of this very old oak tree and it was free. The Hamley fire fifty years ago. That was her first clue that there had been any fire there before, and I said Oh that's interesting piece of history, ok, but it it. Never, and I made that it would be repeated. Was, I aware of the fire risk then not as strongly as I am now for sure so. She strongly aware the fire right now, because now house, a down county supervisor so because now she's us and on the counter, supervised and so on that job part of her job is to use which he knows about fire risk to help determine what people build where summit and how she doing that. What is Susan Gorin doing about people who want to build
comes in these fire prone areas well We sat down with on some. If you can see a circumstance, you wildfire risk on would and is just so extreme that you as a supervisor would feel comfortable. Not allowing construction on for us any decision pretty hard. Or ass any decision maker, eschew say to any property owner that sir, we're not going to rebuild large it of Sonoma County. I think that owners is not. It is not air to the home owners- and it's not feasible for the policy makers with their dealing with apart new everyone who is displaced in the fire? Those are all taxpayers as well, and so the city is facing a multi million dollar shortfall in it. And so the city is facing a multi million dollar shortfall in its budget. So they want to get people
rebuilding made hole and back into their homes in Santa Rosa as quickly as possible, they even set about office to expedite the permanent process for people who wanted to rebuild their we visited. There are right when they were just putting it together. Basically drilling keyboard under the desks. It's it's really exciting Can I talk to you if she saw the devastation and the way that she thought up to help was to join the permitting office so that she could help people with the paperwork to get their homes built as fast as I could to rebuilding, is gonna, be streamlining for many, Everybody understands we want somebody to rebuild on properly. We need that sounds like the local government reaction to this devastating fire. As Ex
then to accelerate building to get people back in their homes and that's not a unique sentiment. I've actually covered multiple fires and the recovery process afterwards and that instinct to rebuild and rebuild quickly, actually fairly common, but it's not just rebuilding its, well preserved, coming innocent opportunity. The scorched lots researchers found evidence that suggests that new home construction can actually outpace Rebuilding efforts after wildfire, okay, so is, is anything different happening when it comes to this new development. Well, we didn't have to wait too long to see that, because almost immediately after the fire there is developed call round. Barn village so before this bill, you can get started. The city council needs to decide to change the land use from commercial to residential, but it would put about two hundred thirty. Seven town homes in the hills, sort of adjacent to fountain, grove.
So we actually want to check out the site where there are planning to build these homes and it's an open field with a parking lot in the middle of it stand under the shade of a birch tree, the women. Out there. We met a city council member named Julie, Combs. What we're looking at is trees that have black bark They still have branches, but the branches are. All brown from being singed and scorched? There was really sort of areas site and she was saying this is a place in particular that she didn't feel comfortable letting people build, because she felt responsible for people now we're not too far from the place where the fire jump. Six lines have highway into access roads to burn down So I have a lot of concerns about a residential project in this area.
It always worries me to have people sleeping in a high fire hazard area, so what happened in this new development came up in front of the city. Council crates. But this was the moment that we'd sorted been looking forward to throughout. The reporting of this was the first big test of new development after the fire. So we went up there the City council meeting, started for about nine thirty. They got around to this question. Fifty going to public hearing round village projects. Do we heard from the developer described all of the fire safe technology. They were going to be using Scott Moon. The fire marshal from Santa Rosa made the case that The new building standards in high fire risk areas are so strong that
I think that will play into the resiliency of our community. As we do move forward, we can safely build homes. Now Seems to usually the prevailing sentiment stuff like fires as the materials, double pain, windows screens on your vents, but I'm not sure. The building codes with a safe homes in this particular fire about ninety four. The homes that were built standards at the fire marshal is talking about still burned. Our analysis found that there were two hundred sixty one homes. I had all these things in place all, but sixteen of them were destroyed or damaged. Despite that fact, the fire marshal emphasis. New fire codes really seem to sway some of the city council members at that meeting. And there was just one city, council, member Julie, Combs, who stood a ground and said we are setting
good morning in a fire hazard area. When we vote today Channel to put this one Moment where the clerk lips on the voting in the lights pop up- and that was six green ones, and one read one- and that was it- they approved it- and we're onto the next order business. So to the city council, vote an Julie Combs, she was the one against six What was her reaction? you still here we caught up with her after the meeting you can write outside and with what she said she was thinking about was taken the big view. This is only the first new housing development. It's not the last we're going to see more development, more housing proposed for the fire hazard area and we just blinked. So the next group is going to say: will you let them go so.
Why are you sure letting us go? We're just witnessed how it happens. You just witnessed the process of we ve, given up the ability to prevent any kind of increased density housing in a fire hazard area. We just gave it up and we ve, given it up until the next fire so, as you said earlier, that homesick getting built in fire problem. Areas all over the country in Santa Rosa there now putting even more houses there right after a major fire is the rest of the country doing the same thing as Santa Rosa. I mean journalism I would say so in, and we ve seen this in areas like Tennessee. Homer South Carolina. These are all places that have lost homes to fires over the past few years, and a new houses are being built, the rebuilding and places have burned before and its content. Possible that they're gonna burn again
the other thing. We know that fires actually get increase in severity and frequency throughout the country, not just in the western states. So we expect to see this story again and again and again, That's reveals data reporter Eric Cigar and Patch Michael's. That story was produced by stand out. One thinks Can we d in San Francisco for their help and station are shut was edited by bread, Myers special thanks to gay Lebaron, Don't you managers, my window and a host of our sound design team is the dynamic do J Breezy, Mr Jim Briggs, Fernando my man, Yo Aruba? They had help from cat shipment thanks. Damn Bergmann and sleeping giant records for additional music. In this episode, things eel is Chris a sharper Amy piles. Our editor in chief, our executive producers, Kevin Selivant theme musics by Colorado, lightning support for reveals, provided
are the Raven David Logan Foundation, the John Dene Catherine Team, Macarthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Fort Foundation, the using Simons Foundation, every ethics and excellence and journalists who foundation It is a co production of the centre for investigative reporting and p r eggs, I'm outlets and remember there is always more to the story, yeah. These are last few shows of the year and let me tell you in twenty twenty we are bringing the fire launching some of our most ambitious projects we ve ever done. I can wait for you to hear them reveal, is all about going deep. Pulling on threads telling stories that matter and this kind of investigative journalism. Well, it takes time and it costs money. These are the final weeks,
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Transcript generated on 2019-12-20.