Par­adise de­stroyed, Mal­ibu emp­ties as three wild­fires rav­age Cal­i­for­nia

Times Colonist - - World -

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.

NOAH BERGER, AP

Right: Aban­doned ve­hi­cles line a ma­jor route Fri­day af­ter a wild­fire burned through Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia.

RINGO H.W. CHIU, AP

A wild­fire spreads to a man­sion near Mal­ibu Lake in Mal­ibu, Cal­i­for­nia, on Fri­day.

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