Nine dead as wild­fire blazes out of con­trol

Movie stars among pan­icked res­i­dents flee­ing flames

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - WORLD -

PAR­ADISE: Nine peo­ple were found dead in burnt-out ve­hi­cles af­ter a north­ern Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire in­cin­er­ated most of a town of about 30,000 peo­ple with flames that moved so fast there was noth­ing fire­fight­ers could do.

Only a day af­ter it be­gan, the blaze near the town of Par­adise had grown to nearly 280sq km and was burn­ing out of con­trol yes­ter­day.

“There was re­ally no fire­fight in­volved,” said Cap­tain Scott McLean of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion. “Th­ese fire­fight­ers were in res­cue mode.” With fires also burn­ing in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, au­thor­i­ties have put the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple forced from their homes at 157,000.

Evac­u­a­tion or­ders in­cluded the city of Mal­ibu, home to 13,000, in­clud­ing Hollywood’s big­gest stars.

When Par­adise was evac­u­ated, the or­der set off a des­per­ate ex­o­dus in which many got stuck in grid­locked traf­fic and aban­doned their ve­hi­cles.

Peo­ple said much of the com­mu­nity burned, in­clud­ing homes, su­per­mar­kets, busi­nesses, restau­rants, schools and a re­tire­ment home.

In ru­ral ar­eas, propane tanks ex­ploded in the flames.

Capt McLean said thou­sands of build­ings were lost in Par­adise, about 290km north­east of San Fran­cisco.

“Pretty much the com­mu­nity of Par­adise is de­stroyed. It’s that kind of dev­as­ta­tion,” he said.

While the cause of the fire is not known, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co has said it ex­pe­ri­enced an out­age near Par­adise about 15 min­utes be­fore the blaze broke out.

The blaze spread north yes­ter­day, prompt­ing of­fi­cials to or­der the evac­u­a­tion of Stir­ling City and In­skip along the Sierra Ne­vada foothills.

The wind-driven fire also spread west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000 peo­ple.

There were no signs of life yes­ter­day on the road to Par­adise ex­cept for bird chirps.

A thick yel­low haze hung in the air and gave the ap­pear­ance of twi­light in the mid­dle of the day. At one burnt-out house, flames smoul­dered in­side what ap­peared to be a weights room.

Evac­uees from Par­adise sat in stunned si­lence at a Chico church where they took refuge the night be­fore.

All told of a slow-mo­tion es­cape from a fire so close they could feel the heat in­side their ve­hi­cles as they sat stuck in a ter­ri­fy­ing traf­fic jam.

When the evac­u­ate or­der came, it was as if all 27,000 res­i­dents left at once.

Pan­icked driv­ers crashed and oth­ers left cars by the road as flames sur­rounded the evac­u­a­tion route.

Con­cerned friends and fam­ily posted anx­ious mes­sages on Twit­ter and other sites, say­ing they were look­ing for loved ones, par­tic­u­larly se­niors who lived in re­tire­ment homes or on their own.

Pic­tures: Getty, AP

PAR­ADISE BURN­ING: A wild­fire in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia has charred vast ar­eas and de­stroyed many homes and busi­nesses.

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