N. California wildfire kills 5
Blaze quadruples in size
PARADISE, Calif. — A wildfire that moved so fast firefighters didn’t even try to stop it killed five people, authorities said Friday as the blaze quadrupled in size after levelling much of a Northern California town of nearly 30,000 people.
Only a day after it began, the fire near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 285 square km, and investigators found five people dead in vehicles that were torched by the flames.
“There was really no firefight involved,” said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, explaining that crews gave up 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 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.
The dead were found in the same part of Paradise, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.
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 km northeast of San Francisco.
“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” he said.
With fires burning in both Northern and Southern California, the director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services put the number of people forced from their homes at 157,000.