Tens of thou­sands flee north­ern Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire

The Welland Tribune - - Canada & World - DON THOMP­SON

OROVILLE, CALIF. — Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple were or­dered to evac­u­ate a fast-mov­ing wild­fire that ex­ploded in size Thurs­day, threat­en­ing sev­eral north­ern Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties and forc­ing pan­icked res­i­dents to race to help neigh­bours and drive through walls of flames to es­cape.

The blaze de­stroyed an un­known num­ber of struc­tures and in­jured some civil­ians, but the ex­tent of their in­juries was not im­me­di­ately known, said Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion Capt. John Gad­die.

As peo­ple fled in cars, some aban­doned their ve­hi­cles, run­ning from en­croach­ing flames as they held ba­bies and pets in their arms, said Gina Oviedo, who de­scribed a dev­as­tat­ing scene as she evac­u­ated the town of Par­adise. Flames were en­gulf­ing homes, util­ity poles were crash­ing down and things were ex­plod­ing, she said.

“It’s a very dan­ger­ous and very se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion,” Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “I’m driv­ing through fire as we speak. We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to get peo­ple out of the af­fected ar­eas.”

He con­firmed re­ports that evac­uees had to aban­don their ve­hi­cles as they fled the scene.

“We’re get­ting them on other ve­hi­cles with room. 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,” Honea said.

All of Par­adise, a town of about 27,000 peo­ple 180 miles (290 kilo­me­tres) north­east of San Fran­cisco, was or­dered to evac­u­ate, said Butte County Sher­iff’s spokesper­son Mi­randa Bow­er­sox.

The wild­fire was re­ported at 6:30 a.m., Rick Carhart, a Cal Fire spokesper­son, said. Within roughly six hours, the fire had grown to 26,500 square miles (68,600 square kilo­me­tres), said Gad­die.

“The blaze is be­ing driven by fairly strong winds,” Carhart said. “It’s re­ally dry and we have low hu­mid­ity — and un­for­tu­nately those are great con­di­tions for a fire to spread.”

A hospi­tal and sev­eral schools were evac­u­ated as thick grey smoke and ash filled the sky above Par­adise and could be seen from miles away.

The Ad­ven­tist Health Feather River Hospi­tal in Par­adise evac­u­ated staff and 41 pa­tients to other hos­pi­tals, given its prox­im­ity to the fire, said Jill Kin­ney, an Ad­ven­tist Health spokesper­son. She said a group of 20 other pa­tients were ini­tially evac­u­ated but then re­turned to the fa­cil­ity be­cause of grid­locked traf­fic.

Gad­die, the fire of­fi­cial, said au­thor­i­ties were “work­ing on a plan” to res­cue the pa­tients.

Some of the hospi­tal’s “out­build­ings,” such as out­pa­tient clin­ics, caught fire and were dam­aged but the main hospi­tal was not, said Kin­ney.

Four of the hospi­tal’s em­ploy­ees were briefly trapped in the base­ment and res­cued by Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers, Kin­ney said.

Shari Ber­nacett said she and her hus­band tried to get peo­ple to leave the mo­bile home park they man­age in Par­adise and had min­utes to evac­u­ate.

She and her hus­band “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many of the res­i­dents of 53 mo­bile homes and recre­ational ve­hi­cles as pos­si­ble, Ber­nacett said.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued red flag warn­ings for fire dan­gers in many ar­eas of the state, say­ing low hu­mid­ity and strong winds were ex­pected to con­tinue through Fri­day.

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