Paradise destroyed, Malibu empties as three wildfires ravage California
PARADISE, California — Five people were found dead in their burned-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, authorities said Friday.
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.”
With fires also burning in Southern California, state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at 157,000. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
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 and schools.
Rural areas fared little better. Many homes have propane tanks that were exploding amid the flames. “They were going off like bombs,” said Karen Auday, who escaped to a nearby town.
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.
The massive blaze spread north Friday, prompting officials to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000. Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Capt. Bill Murphy said.
There were no signs of life Friday on the road to Paradise except for the occasional bird chirp. A thick, yellow haze from the fire hung in the air and gave the appearance of twilight in the middle of the day.
Meanwhile, a city 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. The cause of the blazes was not known.
For Thousand Oaks, which had been considered one of the safest cities in the U.S. before a gunman massacred 12 people at a country music bar on Wednesday night, the spasm of violence jolted the city’s sense of security. Encroaching flames, despite the near-constant threat of fire in the bone-dry state, presented an entirely different hazard.
“It’s devastating. It’s like ‘welcome to hell,’ ” resident Cynthia Ball said about the duel disasters, while outside the teen centre that is serving as a shelter for evacuees. “I don’t even know what to say.””
A day earlier, the facility had been the location where grieving family members had gathered and received the grim news on the fate of loved ones who had not returned from the Borderline Bar and Grill, where a U.S. Marine combat veteran went on a shooting rampage Wednesday before apparently killing himself.
The investigation into what drove Ian David Long, 28, to kill was continuing even as the city about 65 km from Los Angeles was under threat from one of three major wildfires burning in the state.
Right: Abandoned vehicles line a major route Friday after a wildfire burned through Paradise, California.
A wildfire spreads to a mansion near Malibu Lake in Malibu, California, on Friday.