Blaze spreads

North­ern Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire nearly quadru­ples in size

The Western Star - - WORLD -

A wild­fire that moved so fast that fire­fight­ers couldn’t hope to stop it quadru­pled in size Fri­day af­ter de­stroy­ing sev­eral thou­sand build­ings and lev­el­ling much of a North­ern Cal­i­for­nia town of nearly 30,000 peo­ple, au­thor­i­ties said.

Only a day af­ter it be­gan, the fire near the town of Par­adise had grown to nearly 285 square kilo­me­tres.

“There was re­ally no fire­fight in­volved,” said Capt. Scott McLean of the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion, ex­plain­ing that crews gave up on at­tack­ing the flames and in­stead helped peo­ple evac­u­ate. “Th­ese fire­fight­ers were in the res­cue mode all day yes­ter­day.”

The en­tire town was or­dered evac­u­ated, set­ting off a des­per­ate ex­o­dus in which many mo­torists got struck in grid­locked traf­fic and aban­doned their cars to flee foot. Peo­ple in Par­adise re­ported see­ing much of the com­mu­nity go up in flames, in­clud­ing homes, super­mar­kets, busi­nesses, restau­rants, schools and a re­tire­ment cen­tre.

“We were sur­rounded by fire. We were driv­ing through fire on each side of the road,” po­lice of­fi­cer Mark Bass said.

On Fri­day, the mas­sive blaze spread north, prompt­ing of­fi­cials to or­der the evac­u­a­tion of Stir­ling City and In­skip, two com­mu­ni­ties north of Par­adise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The wind-driven blaze also spread to the west and reached the edge of Chico, a city of 90,000 peo­ple. Fire­fight­ers were able to stop the flames at the edge of the city, where evac­u­a­tion or­ders re­mained in place Fri­day, said Cal Fire Cpt. Bill Mur­phy said.

The winds calmed down in the val­ley, but they were still shift­ing and er­ratic, with speeds of up to 72 kilo­me­tres per hour along ridge tops, he said.

In Par­adise, Bass evac­u­ated his fam­ily and then re­turned to the fire to help res­cue sev­eral dis­abled res­i­dents, in­clud­ing a man try­ing to carry his bedrid­den wife to safety.

“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” Bass said.

McLean es­ti­mated that sev­eral thou­sand build­ings were lost 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.

Wild­fires also erupted in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, with re­ports early Fri­day of two large fires scorch­ing about 60 square kilo­me­tres and threat­en­ing nu­mer­ous com­mu­ni­ties. ABC7. com re­ported that 75,000 homes were un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders along the bor­der of Ven­tura and Los An­ge­les coun­ties.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued ex­treme fire dan­ger warn­ings in many ar­eas of the state, say­ing low hu­mid­ity and strong winds were ex­pected to con­tinue through the evening.

The fire in Par­adise was re­ported shortly af­ter day­break Thurs­day.

In the midst of the chaos, of­fi­cials said they could not pro­vide fig­ures on the num­ber of wounded, but County Cal Fire Chief Dar­ren Read said that at least two fire­fight­ers and mul­ti­ple res­i­dents were in­jured.

“It’s a very dan­ger­ous and very se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion,” Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea said. “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.” Sev­eral evac­u­a­tion cen­tres were set up in nearby towns.

Res­i­dents de­scribed flee­ing their homes and get­ting stuck in traf­fic jams as the flames sparked ex­plo­sions and top­pled util­ity poles.

AP PHOTO

Flames con­sume The Screen & Win­dow Shop as the Camp Fire tears through Par­adise, Calif., on Thurs­day.

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