‘PARADISE IS DESTROYED’
California fire incinerates town, bodies found
PARADISE, CALIF. • Five people were found dead in burnt-out vehicles after a Northern California wildfire incinerated most of this town of 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 280 square kilometres and was burning completely out of control.
“There was really no firefight involved,” Capt. Scott Mclean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said, explaining that crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive.
“These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday.”
At the other end of the state, Thousand Oaks, reeling from the tragedy of a mass shooting, was under a siege of a different sort as raging wildfires on both sides of the city forced evacuations and shut down part of the main freeway to town.
Flames driven by powerful winds torched dozens of hillside homes in Southern California, burning parts of tony Calabasas and mansions in Malibu and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee as the fire marched across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea.
For Thousand Oaks, a Los Angeles suburb that had been considered one of the safest cities in the nation before a gunman massacred 12 people at a country music bar, the spasm of violence jolted the city’s sense of security.
“It’s devastating. It’s like ‘welcome to hell,’ ” resident Cynthia Ball, said about the dual disasters outside the teen centre that is serving as a shelter for evacuees.
“I don’t even know what to say. It’s like we’re all walking around kind of in a trance.”
Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Kim Kardashian West, Scott Baio, Rainn Wilson and Guillermo del Toro were among numerous celebrities forced to evacuate their homes, in some cases hurriedly trying to arrange transport for their horses.
Some, like del Toro and Caitlyn Jenner, did not know the fate of their homes, but fire destroyed the home of Dr. Strange director Scott Derrickson and the historic Paramount Ranch where shows like HBO’S Westworld and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman were filmed.
Hours north, when Paradise was evacuated, the order set off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got stuck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot.
People reported seeing much of the community go up in flames, including homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement centre.
Mclean estimated that the lost buildings numbered in the thousands in Paradise, about 290 kilometres northeast of San Francisco.
“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed.
“It’s that kind of devastation,” he said.
Nurse Darrel Wilken said Friday that the fire came so quickly that he and other employees at the Adventist Health Feather River Hospital used their own cars to evacuate patients. Wilken said he took three patients in his car and that two of them were in critical condition.
Paradise resident Cody Knowles said his wife, Francine, was having gallbladder surgery Thursday morning. When the evacuation was announced, she was still asleep from anesthesia. He waited until she woke up and they escaped in a hospital employee’s car.
Evacuees from Paradise sat in stunned silence Friday outside a church in nearby Chico where they took refuge the night before. They all had harrowing tales 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.
Fire surrounded the evacuation route, and drivers panicked. Some crashed and others left their vehicles by the roadside.
“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” police officer Mark Bass said.
A nurse called Rita Miller on Thursday morning, telling her she had to get her disabled mother, who lives a few blocks away, and flee Paradise immediately. Miller jumped in her boyfriend’s rickety pickup truck, which was low on gas and equipped with a bad transmission. She instantly found herself stuck in gridlock.
“I was frantic,” she said. After an hour of no movement, she abandoned the truck and decided to try her luck on foot. While walking, a stranger in the traffic jam rolled down her window and asked Miller if she needed help. Miller at first scoffed at the notion of getting back in a vehicle.
Then she reconsidered, thinking: “I’m really scared. This is terrifying. I can’t breathe. I can’t see, and maybe I should humble myself and get in this woman’s car.”
A wildfire rages in Malibu, Calif., Friday. About two-thirds of the city of Malibu was ordered evacuated as a ferocious blaze roared toward the beachside community that is home to about 13,000 residents, including Hollywood stars.