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New Mayor Of Ventura, Calif., Faces Wildfires The Day After Taking Office


We've been tracking this massive wildfire in Ventura, Calif., which has consumed more than 50,000 acres - thousands of homes. At one point, the flames came within blocks of Ventura City Hall, which is where Neal Andrews just got a new office. He was sworn in as the new mayor of Ventura just about three hours after the fire broke out on Monday night. And he is on the line now from Ventura. Hi, Mayor Andrews.


KELLY: What a week you are having.

ANDREWS: (Laughter) Yes, it was just remarkable. I got sworn in. As I walked out of City Hall, all the lights of the city went out. And that was the first indication that we had a real crisis happening.

KELLY: Did you know that there was a fire at all. I mean, did you know what was causing it?

ANDREWS: I was aware that there was a fire. We were under the impression it was far east of us and that it was only about 2,000 acres. But it just - the flames were driven by the wind. The flames and smoke was horizontal. And it was just amazing the speed with which that fire spread.

KELLY: Can you smell it? Can you see it where you are now?

ANDREWS: At this point, no. On Monday night as I went home, and I could see the red glow. And next thing I know, I looked out the window, and literally the flames were coming across the ridge right down towards my house.

KELLY: You've had to evacuate your house since. Is that right?

ANDREWS: I did. I have not been able to get back since.

KELLY: Now where are we speaking to you from right now?

ANDREWS: You're speaking to me from the emergency operations center. We actually literally have kind of a mini city hall set up here. All of the emergency services that we need are here running the operations that are necessary to deal with this crisis.

KELLY: And what is the current situation? How close are the flames? How quickly is it continuing to spread from what you can see?

ANDREWS: Well, we've lost 150 to 200 structures at a minimum. But we know it's an underestimate. We know that one whole community, in the hillsides, has not really been countered effectively. And it could be as high as 250 more houses up there. And we don't know exactly how they're counting these structures. For example, we had a 74-unit apartment building that burned to the ground. Do we call that 74 living structures? Or do we call that one structure? We're still working on things like that.

KELLY: Thousands of people have evacuated. Where are you sending them?

ANDREWS: Well, we have several sites that we're sending them to. Principally, our main site is at the Ventura County fairgrounds. And two neighboring cities have shelters open. And we still have room for more evacuees if we need it.

KELLY: Well, Mayor Andrews, we wish you luck. Before I let you go, what happened to your house?

ANDREWS: Well, as far as I know, it's still there. The thing about it is the wind drives the embers and so forth. They can skip from one house a couple of blocks to the next house and skip over houses and stuff like that. So we just have to keep our fingers crossed.

KELLY: Well, Mayer Andrews, we wish you luck. And thank you so much for taking the time.

ANDREWS: Well, by all means, and thank you for your good wishes.

KELLY: That's Neal Andrews, the new mayor, as of Monday, of Ventura, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.