Nine dead as wildfire blazes out of control
Movie stars among panicked residents fleeing flames
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.
PARADISE BURNING: A wildfire in northern California has charred vast areas and destroyed many homes and businesses.