Kirk Siegler

Kirk Siegler covers the western United States for NPR's national desk, a position he's held since December of 2012.

Based at NPR West's studios in Culver City, California, Siegler's reporting focuses on issues including the far-reaching environmental and economic impacts of the drought in California and the West. He also covers the region's complex – and often bitter – disputes around land use. On this beat, his assignments have brought listeners to the heart of anti-government standoffs in the region, including a rare 2014 interview with recalcitrant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Siegler also recently took listeners to the front lines of wildfires while embedded with an all-Native American hot shot crew from Arizona. Siegler also contributes extensively to the network's breaking news coverage. Assignments have taken him from Newtown, Connecticut, to tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, to a pair of labor disputes that threatened to shut down West Coast ports.

In 2015, Siegler was awarded an International Reporting Project fellowship from Johns Hopkins University to report on health and development in Nepal. While en route to the country in April, the worst magnitude earthquake to hit the region in more than 80 years struck. Siegler was one of the first foreign journalists to arrive in Kathmandu and helped lead NPR's coverage of the immediate aftermath of the deadly quake. He also filed in-depth reports focusing on the humanitarian disaster and challenges of bringing relief to some of the Nepal's far flung rural villages.

Prior to joining NPR, Siegler spent seven years reporting from Colorado, where he became a familiar voice to NPR listeners reporting on politics, water and the state's ski industry from Denver for NPR Member Station KUNC. Siegler's work has also won numerous Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards in Colorado and Montana, where he landed his first reporting job in 2003 serving as Montana Public Radio's first statehouse bureau chief.

Apart from a brief stint working as a waiter in Sydney, Australia, Siegler has spent most of his adult life living in the West. He grew up near Missoula, Montana, and received a journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an avid skier and enjoys traveling and visiting his family and friends scattered across the globe.

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This has been one of the worst — and most expensive — wildfire seasons ever in the Northwest, where climate change and a history of suppressing wildfires have created a dangerous buildup of fuels.

With fires burning hotter and more intense, there are renewed calls to change how the federal government pays to fight the biggest fires.

"These large and intense fires are a natural disaster in much the same way a hurricane or a tornado or a flood is," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says. "And they ought to be funded as such through the emergency funding of FEMA."

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On the northern flank of the Rocky Fire, the blackened forest floor is smoldering. The blaze, which ignited more than a week ago in Northern California, quickly engulfed miles of dry brush and oak forests, at one point consuming 20,000 acres in just a few hours. The land it's left behind is eerie, hot and powdery underfoot.

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News of the historic drought in the West is giving way to a lot of hype over predictions of a strong El Nino forming in the Pacific Ocean.


The iconic forests of the Pacific Northwest — with their towering, moss-covered fir and pine trees — have never been this dry. The grass underneath the ferns has already turned gold.

Of the five large wildfires burning in Washington alone right now, one has scorched more than 1,500 acres of a rainforest on the typically misty Olympic Peninsula.

The wildfire threat in the drought-stricken Pacific Northwest right now is extraordinary, and there are concerns that the region may not be prepared for a long summer.

A Wake-Up Call

Rural Tulare County, Calif., is now being called the epicenter of this drought.

That's because at least 1,300 residential wells have run dry, affecting at least 7,000 people. When your taps start spitting out air here, Paul Boyer and his team are who you call.

Under a punishing midafternoon sun, Boyer helps muscle down five of these hefty 400-pound water tanks from a semi-truck flatbed. He helps run a local nonprofit that's in charge of distributing these 2,500-gallon water tanks to drought victims.

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Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



There's something strange happening along the coast of Southern California. It's the latest in a string of rare phenomena that scientists link to unusually warm ocean waters. NPR's Kirk Siegler went to have a look.