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Community radio station switches to full-time coverage of Valley Fire




Melted metal flows from a burned out car abandoned on a highway during the Valley Fire in Middletown, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames. The town of Middletown, population 1,300, was particularly devastated by the Valley Fire, according to local daily Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which said the fire grew from 50 acres to 10,000 over just five hours Saturday -- before quadrupling in size overnight.
Melted metal flows from a burned out car abandoned on a highway during the Valley Fire in Middletown, California on September 13, 2015. The governor of California declared a state of emergency Sunday as raging wildfires spread in the northern part of the drought-ridden US state, forcing thousands to flee the flames. The town of Middletown, population 1,300, was particularly devastated by the Valley Fire, according to local daily Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which said the fire grew from 50 acres to 10,000 over just five hours Saturday -- before quadrupling in size overnight.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

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As the fast-moving Valley Fire broke out over the weekend, thousands of residents in Lake and Napa counties were forced to evacuate. Some had only minutes to leave their homes. 

Many turned to social media and smartphones for information, but for those without access to the Internet, community radio has been filling in the gaps. 

Late Saturday night, 88.1 KPFZ FM, Lake County Community Radio, suspended their regular programming and switched to a round-the-clock call-in format.

The rural community station usually runs a mix of music, talk and politics programming, but cancelled everything soon after the fire broke out.

"It's a very grassroots station," station manager Andy Weiss said early Monday. "The people here are close-knit, they know what to do. And we've been doing it for about 36 straight hours."

In place of their usual schedule, radio hosts at KPFZ have been taking calls and answering questions about which roads are closed, where evacuation centers are located, and how residents can help. 

While social media has been an invaluable resource, Weiss says, it can't really replace the power of radio.

"It's a comfort for the people that are distraught," Weiss says. "They need to hear some voices, live voices talking about it, hearing what people have gone through just like they have."

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above



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