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News Brief: California Wildfires, Brexit Negotiations


The number of people missing in Northern California's fires leaped again over the weekend. The number is now around 1,000.


And the hope is that some are just out of touch with friends and family. The fear, though, is that many will be added to the list of 77 dead. Rain is in the forecast for the middle of this week. And that could bring relief to firefighters. But it could also complicate the search efforts.

INSKEEP: NPR's Leila Fadel is covering this story from Chico, Calif., which is just west of Paradise. Hi there, Leila.


INSKEEP: How does the number of missing keep going up?

FADEL: Well, you know, there's a lot of different theories. This is a fluctuating list. It started a hundred, 300, 600 - and now, as you said, nearly a thousand people. And some of it could be duplicate names. People ran with nothing. They might not have their cell phones. Many of these are elderly people who might not have cell phones at all. There are misspellings, people who might not know they're on the list. But there's also a real possibility that there are a lot more people in the ashes of these burned-out homes than we currently know about.

The search and rescue teams out in Paradise are focused on looking for human remains at places people might have taken refuge from the fire, like the bathtub, those mornings. So they're looking for people that were in bed, maybe, or looking at homes that had cars in the driveway, a sign that they might have been home. So they're looking for more dead people among the ashes.

INSKEEP: And I suppose we should note that searchers are looking for people at the same time that this is still very much a working fire.

FADEL: That's right. There are hundreds of people looking for their loved ones - Facebook groups. They're posting online, looking for their fathers, their brothers, hoping that their person made it out alive. And every day, that list changes - some people taken off, others people - other people added.

INSKEEP: So we have about more than 46,000 people displaced by this fire, which firefighters are continuing to battle. But it has passed through this town, Paradise, and some other places. The ashes are cooling there. When will people be able to return?

FADEL: You know, that's - that's the big question. Honestly, you walk through Paradise, and it's a hazard. I can't emphasize enough the type of destruction there. Usually in in conflict zones, you can see in parts of the rubble, pieces of people's lives. But this fire was so intense, a lot of these lots, you can't recognize anything - not a half-burned photo, not a rug. And so it's unclear when it will be safe enough for people to go back.

And then there are also the people who - a smattering of people whose homes, miraculously, are standing - people like Christina Guarino, who is feeling lucky that her home is standing. But she's also worried about facing going back alone to an empty town. Take a listen to what she had to say.

CHRISTINA GUARINO: Everything's gone. I mean, our house isn't gone, but every - our neighborhood is gone.

FADEL: So she's facing the prospect of returning home. And while she feels lucky that she didn't lose a loved one or her things, she's also afraid to go back. She has four children. And she asks, are my kids going to play in - in lots of ash? And are we going to be alone?

INSKEEP: Were - was that one of her kids we heard in the background there just now?

FADEL: That's right. And that's her youngest, her toddler Abel. And right now her kids don't really understand. They're sleeping in bunk beds at their uncle's house with their parents, in one room. But she is worried about going - about going back. And she does feel guilt over that because people are saying, let's go back. Let's rebuild. But she says, OK, people will rebuild. But while they're rebuilding, we'll be alone in Paradise.

INSKEEP: I'm reminded of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where here and there there'd be an individual who came back to their house, but the entire neighborhood was empty. And the stores were empty, and everything was covered in mud.

FADEL: Exactly. The stores are gone in this case, the gas stations. And so they're asking, how can we live? How can we live back there if we get to return?

INSKEEP: Leila, thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Leila Fadel. Now, President Trump visited the fire zone over the weekend. And NPR's Ayesha Rascoe is on the line to talk about that. Hi there, Ayesha.


INSKEEP: Was this a little awkward - because hadn't the president been blaming forest managers for these fires before his visit to California?

RASCOE: He had. And - but when he was there, he wasn't as harsh as he was on Twitter. But he did keep up this idea that he feels like California needs better forest management. He talked about speaking with the president of Finland. And Trump said that the Finnish president told him that to prevent forest fires in Finland, that they rake and clean the floors of the forests.

Now, the Finnish president responded to that in a separate interview and said he wasn't really sure what Trump was referring to. But President Trump was just keeping up this idea that they need better forest management and not really talking about climate change or other factors like that.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention, there is forest management. There is an effort to clear out underbrush. But it's done by controlled burning and that sort of thing. People don't go in with rakes, necessarily, to giant forests. But Ayesha, stay with us because there was also some dramatic political news over the weekend.

MARTIN: Right. So big elections ended in Florida and Georgia. In Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson conceded defeat to his challenger. That was Republican Rick Scott. That means Republicans have now gained a net total of two seats in the Senate. Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded defeat in the governor's race to Republican Ron DeSantis. Both races required recounts.

And also, in Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams acknowledged that Republican Brian Kemp will be governor. But she promised to keep fighting in court against the way that Kemp, as secretary of state, oversaw his own election.

INSKEEP: OK, Ayesha, how big is this for each party, these races that are now decided?

RASCOE: So this was a big deal, especially in Florida. And it's because so much of the focus in 2020 will be on Florida, as it always is, as kind of this critical swing state. And having Republicans take the Senate and the governor's races when they were so contested, that's a win for Republicans from the midterms where they lost a lot. So that was a big deal for them.

But for Democrats, they got really close in Georgia, which is a big deal. And Stacey Abrams - and Stacey Abrams and, in Florida, Bill Nelson, what they talked about in in their concession speeches, they talked about voter suppression and this idea that that needs to be dealt with in this country. And so there were still these complaints - outlying complaints - about the way these races were handled.

INSKEEP: OK. And very briefly, I want to ask about something else here because the president gave an interview to Chris Wallace of Fox News that was broadcast over the weekend. And he was asked about a lot of things. He made a lot of comments about his Cabinet and so forth but was also asked specifically about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This is the man, of course, who disappeared in Turkey after walking into a Saudi Arabian Consulate. It's now acknowledged that he was killed. His body still has not been found. What has the president been saying?

RASCOE: So the president is maintaining that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told him that he had nothing to do with the killings. This is despite reports that the CIA has concluded that the crown prince did order the killing. And so the president is saying he's expecting a full report from the CIA on Tuesday.

INSKEEP: And is...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have the tape. I don't want to hear the tape - no reason for me to hear the tape.

RASCOE: He - that was him talking in the interview about acknowledging that he - they do have tape of the murder, of the audio recording of the killing of Khashoggi. But he said he doesn't want to hear the tape.

INSKEEP: OK, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, thanks so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.


INSKEEP: All right, this coming weekend, member states of the European Union meet to decide if they want to sign off on the proposed terms for Britain's departure from the European Union.

MARTIN: Right. And it is believed the EU likes the latest British proposal. A bigger question is whether the British government will approve it. Prime Minister Theresa May released this draft document last week amid fierce criticism and Cabinet resignations. Some in her own party wrote letters calling for a vote of no confidence in her leadership. May is set to give the speech today promoting the deal.

INSKEEP: Let's bring in Financial Times political editor George Parker, who's been following this. Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: Does it feel like you're near the end of the crisis?

PARKER: Well, it certainly feels like we're coming towards the end of this saga, which has been dragging on for more than two years since Britain voted to leave the EU. And this week, as you've just been saying, is a really critical week for the prime minister. She's going to Brussels on Sunday to hopefully get sign-off from the rest of the EU for the terms of Britain's departure from the EU.

But at the same time, she's facing these sort of squalls at home, the possibility of a leadership challenge by some of her own MPs who don't like the deal that she signed and also the possibility of a second wave of Cabinet resignations by euroskeptic Cabinet ministers who are equally unhappy. So it's a difficult domestic situation. And as usual, the more difficult negotiation for the prime minister is back at home with her own party and the talks, I think, over in Brussels.

INSKEEP: I almost wonder if the European Union approval of May's plan hurts her politically. It makes it seem like she's not being strong enough if the Europeans actually like the terms.

PARKER: Well, I think that's a - that's always a danger. I think there are some people in her party who think that she should have driven a much harder bargain in Brussels. And they think she's capitulated. It's not the dream of Brexit they had in mind. And basically, the deal she's negotiated keeps Britain locked into many of the EU's rules into the distant future as the price we'll have to pay for getting access to the European market.

They don't like that. They have this much more sort of Churchillian idea of Britain walking off, having an independent path, trading with the world on the high seas. And it doesn't quite meet up to the sort of lyrical Brexit that they originally had in mind.

INSKEEP: I guess we've been learning here about the mechanics of a vote of no confidence. We've been told that 48 members would have to sign letters in order for there to be a vote of no confidence. Should we presume that - that her opponents don't have 48 because if they did, we would have heard about it by now?

PARKER: Well, they've been talking about this for about six months, the possibility of defenestrating Theresa May. And they so far have failed to muster the 48 names. My guess is if they didn't get the 48 names last week, when the terms of the deal were published, they're going to struggle a bit this week. They're in a dilemma.

They can probably get - just about get to 48 names to trigger this vote of confidence in the prime minister. But they wouldn't have anywhere near enough MPs to actually beat her. So they either end up having this vote of confidence and losing and looking rather stupid or not having the vote of confidence this week and looking like they didn't have the numbers in the first place, in which they also look stupid.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, is part of the problem here for May's opponents that many of them might like to unseat her as prime minister, but none of them would dare try to be prime minister themselves right this minute?

PARKER: Who on Earth would want to be prime minister of this country at the moment? And also, from the point of view the Brexiteers, they would be in charge of their own project, which I suspect would be the last thing they really want.

INSKEEP: Mr. Parker, pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.


INSKEEP: George Parker is political editor for the Financial Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOREST ON THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.