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Evacuees weigh COVID-19 risks at shelters during wildfires

As California’s Governor announces a State of Emergency and begins to order evacuations, the California wildfires continue to rage on as over 230k acres continues to burn. Yahoo Finance’s Melody Hahm joins The Final Round to discuss.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Welcome back to "The Final Round." Let's get to a developing story out of California. The wildfires in the state continuing to grow. It's disrupting business and everyday life, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes. Melody Hahm is joining us from California.

Melody, when we talk about obviously the personal loss here, but also the economic impact from this will likely be devastating. Because this is on top of the disruption that the state of California has already seen over the last six or seven months from the coronavirus pandemic.

MELODY HAHM: Yeah, I just hopped off the Gavin Newsom presser. The governor of California joined by several firefighters as well to give an update on the latest when it comes to this round of wildfires. Just some quick numbers here, more than 12,000 lightning strikes have hit. 560 fires since this began about a week ago. 18 new fires since yesterday alone. 20 major fires currently in effect.

And there's over 771,000 acres that have already been burned. To give you context, that's about the size of Rhode Island. And overall, it's-- most of them are happening in northern California around wine country like Napa and Sonoma.

And to your point Seana, it's not only the coronavirus that they're reeling from, but even in the fall, I did some coverage on a lot of those small business owners. Many of those wineries are owned by families. They're not large corporations. And they were barely able to open. And a lot of it is perception damage, too, right.

When you see these images that I'm sure we're showing on Yahoo Finance as well of blazing fires, that's not really an appetizing, luring sort of billboard, if you will, for those who are looking for their next adventure, even if it is a road trip. So overall, tourism accounts for the vast majority of a lot of northern California visitors and their economy.

And it is going to be hit super hard after reeling from the wildfires that they experienced over the last four years. They never really fully recovered. And a lot of their own vegetation had been down. So never mind staying afloat and trying to keep up with their current demand, they aren't able to invest in their future crops as well.

So overall, this is a-- this is having a devastating impact. I do know, speaking with several business owners in northern California, that some have had to evacuate even their San Francisco homes because the air quality was so bad. But the problem is Seana, what a predicament right now, right? We're being told to stay at home. We're being told, please do not socialize or interact with other people if at all possible.

But unfortunately, for a lot of these people, that's not an option anymore. They have to flee. And many of them are coming to southern California as well to try to avoid a lot of that. I can tell you right now, I'm here in Los Angeles. And there is a bit of smog in the sky. But overall, things seem to be OK over here.

SEANA SMITH: One other thing just about-- Melody talking about the tourists coming. I do think that there has been research shown, based on the last couple of years of wildfires, of people actually leaving the state, picking up if they are-- if their house has been destroyed, the cost of building is really expensive. And we've already been seeing that, people leaving big cities.

I mean, San Francisco has rent down. New York City has rent down. Not that New York has fires. But this is just one more impact on actually people that are the tax base leaving the state.

MELODY HAHM: Exactly. And I think the insurance complications, especially with, you know, some of the families I've spoken with, they have spent their own money, a lot of the time, out of pocket rebuilding their home, right. And they say, you know what? This happens. This is just like the cost of living in northern California.

But for a second rebuild amid a coronavirus pandemic, to your point Jen, I think there is only so much resilience you can have to feel as though this is worth the investment in staying here. So even a lot of folks who own wineries and vineyards here, I'm imagining that they're going to say, hey, maybe we'll have somebody looking after our plot of land.

But for the most part, for those who are in a comfortable enough position, we are starting to see a little bit of an exodus there.

SEANA SMITH: Melody, going back to what you said earlier just about the unique situation that this year brings, just because of the pandemic complicating this, people seeking shelter, they don't necessarily want to go into crowded places. And I was reading through people's real life experiences and the decisions that they have had to make over the last several hours, 24, 48 hours.

So I think we also have to keep in mind the health risk that people are at because of these wildfires as well, and what that could mean overall for the state of California as it does work to fight the coronavirus pandemic as well as the rest of the United States.