Par­adise lost as thou­sands forced to flee flames on foot

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - PAR­ADISE:

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple fled a fast-mov­ing fire yes­ter­day in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, some clutch­ing ba­bies and pets as they aban­doned ve­hi­cles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evac­u­a­tion of an en­tire town and de­stroyed hun­dreds of struc­tures.

“Pretty much the com­mu­nity of Par­adise is de­stroyed, it’s that kind of dev­as­ta­tion,” said Cal Fire cap­tain Scott McLean.

“The wind that was pre­dicted came and just wiped it out.”

Cap­tain McLean es­ti­mated that a cou­ple of thou­sand struc­tures were de­stroyed in the town of 27,000 res­i­dents about 290km north­east of San Fran­cisco, where res­i­dents scram­bled to flee.

The ex­tent of in­juries was not known as of­fi­cials could not ac­cess the dan­ger­ous area, but Butte County Cal Fire chief Dar­ren Read said at least two fire­fight­ers and mul­ti­ple res­i­dents had been in­jured.

As she fled, Gina Oviedo de­scribed a scene in which flames en­gulfed homes, sparked ex­plo­sions and top­pled util­ity poles. “Things started ex­plod­ing,” she said.

“Peo­ple started get­ting out of their ve­hi­cles and run­ning.”

Dozens of busi­nesses and homes had been lev­elled or were in flames, in­clud­ing a liquor store and petrol sta­tion. “It’s a very dan­ger­ous and very se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion,” Butte County sher­iff Kory Honea said. “I’m driv­ing through fire as we speak. We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to get peo­ple out of the af­fected areas.”

The blaze erupted as windy weather swept the state, cre­at­ing ex­treme fire dan­ger.

A wind-whipped fire north of Los An­ge­les in Ven­tura County burned up to 40sq km and at least one home in a mat­ter of hours. It threat­ened thou­sands of homes and prompted evac­u­a­tions. A nearby blaze was smaller at about 3sq km but mov­ing quickly.

Act­ing Gover­nor Gavin New­som de­clared a state of emer­gency for the fire-stricken area in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and re­quested a pres­i­den­tial dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion, say­ing dan­ger­ous con­di­tions were ex­pected to last sev­eral days.

Shari Ber­nacett said her hus­band tried to get peo­ple to leave the Par­adise mo­bile home park they man­age. He “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many res­i­dents as pos­si­ble, Ms Ber­nacett said.

“My hus­band tried his best to get every­body out. The whole hill’s on fire. God help us!”

They drove through flames be­fore get­ting to safety. Videos on so­cial me­dia showed cars driv­ing along roads that looked like tun­nels of fire.

Of­fi­cials were send­ing as many fire­fight­ers as they could, Cal Fire spokesman Rick Carhart said.

“Ev­ery en­gine that we could put on the fire is on the fire right now, and more are com­ing,” he said. “There are dozens of strike teams that we’re bring­ing in from all parts of the state.”

Mr Honea said evac­uees had to aban­don their ve­hi­cles. Res­cuers were try­ing to put them in other ve­hi­cles. “We’re work­ing very hard to get peo­ple out. The mes­sage I want to get out is: If you can evac­u­ate, you need to evac­u­ate,” he said.

GETTY IMAGES

A home ablaze in Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia, yes­ter­day

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