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'This One Was Different,' Reporter Covering Carr Fire Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Carr Fire in Northern California has killed six people and destroyed more than a thousand homes and buildings since it started last week. According to the Redding Record Searchlight newspaper, some 200 homes in that city alone have been destroyed.

David Benda works for the Redding Record Searchlight. I reached him at Jefferson Public Radio in Redding. Benda has covered a lot of fires in his 30 years at the paper, but he told me he has never seen anything like this.

DAVID BENDA: This one was different. This one - it started on Monday, July 23, and it just kept kind of methodically growing, progressing. But it blew up, and by Thursday evening, it had reached Redding. And it was chaotic. It was scary. Nobody knew what was going to happen next.

MARTIN: I understand many people on staff at the Record Searchlight themselves have been evacuated and all the while are still out there doing the work, reporting to serve their readers. Can you talk a little bit about how they are managing?

BENDA: So you're right. Yeah, we did have staff members evacuated. I was evacuated. Nobody lost their homes. But you didn't know at the moment when you were evacuated whether or not you were going to come back, and yet you still were out trying to cover this event. It was just crazy. I mean, the streets were just choked with cars. At that point, everyone was going one way out of Redding. The smoke - you could just see it. It looked like some, like, apocalyptic scene.

MARTIN: Were people panicking?

BENDA: Yeah. A lot of people were were panicking.

MARTIN: How has the paper been able to just keep going? Presumably, you've been able to publish through all of this.

BENDA: Yeah, we have. Our power actually went out back that day when the fire just blew up that night, and we were able to keep giving updates. We had a backup generator. And then we were able to publish. We took the paper to a community about 70 miles south of us, Chico. And that's where we published.

MARTIN: Wow.

BENDA: You know, covering this thing has been - it's been kind of therapy for us.

MARTIN: How?

BENDA: You know, it's kept your mind busy.

MARTIN: I mean, if you think about local newspapers in general around the country, it's not been an easy time for a whole lot of different reasons. Considering the challenges that you all have faced over the past few weeks, what's been the response from your readers?

BENDA: It's been nice. The readers - they've appreciated what we're doing. The other media, too - I mean, everybody's just been doing a fantastic job under these horrible, horrible conditions.

MARTIN: David Benda is a reporter for the Record Searchlight, the local newspaper in Redding, Calif. Thank you so much for your time, David, and for sharing what's been happening there in your community.

BENDA: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "BARALKU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.