Camp Fire be­comes one of state’s worst: 6,700 struc­tures lost; at least 9 dead

Marysville Appeal-Democrat - - CAMP FIRE -

Butte County. On Fri­day, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co. no­ti­fied state reg­u­la­tors that one of its high-volt­age power lines lo­cated near where the fire be­gan had mal­func­tioned shortly be­fore the first flames were re­ported Thurs­day morn­ing.

Fu­eled by strong north­east winds and a parched land­scape, the fire grew to 70,000 acres by mid­day Fri­day.

It forced tens of thou­sands of peo­ple in Par­adise and sur­round­ing towns to evac­u­ate. Many of them spilled onto a four-lane road called Sky­way – the main evac­u­a­tion route out of Par­adise – that quickly be­came jammed. Res­i­dents de­scribed sit­ting in traf­fic as flames on both sides of the road reached for their cars.

Faced with wors­en­ing grid­lock, fire of­fi­cials said they made a cru­cial de­ci­sion to fo­cus their en­ergy on res­cu­ing peo­ple stranded on the road, un­able to move, rather than try to beat back the grow­ing in­ferno.

By Fri­day af­ter­noon, it was only 5 per­cent con­tained.

The Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion said that a few thou­sand fire­fight­ers had been dis­patched to bat­tle the blaze. At least three had been in­jured.

Parts of Par­adise were still burn­ing Fri­day af­ter­noon as law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties and util­ity com­pany work­ers be­gan to sur­vey the dam­age. Honea said con­di­tions were too “un­sta­ble” for sher­iff’s deputies to go door-to-door look­ing for sur­vivors.

Though it was well­known as a re­tire­ment com­mu­nity, the town was also home to about 12,000 fam­i­lies. It was a place of rolling hills dot­ted with tidy homes, dropped in the mid­dle of a thick for­est of pine and oak trees.

Par­adise Vice Mayor Greg Bolin said that early re­ports from fire of­fi­cials sug­gested that 80 per­cent to 90 per­cent of the town had burned. Bolin, who lost his home, said: “The town is gone.”

Fire­fight­ers’ as­sault on the Camp fire has, so far, pre­vented it from reach­ing Chico, home to about 90,000 peo­ple west of Par­adise. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that 15,000 homes and other build­ings are still in the path of the fast-mov­ing blaze.

“The mag­ni­tude of the destruc­tion in Par­adise and a year ago in Santa Rosa is such that it will take many years to re­cover,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Repub­li­can law­maker who rep­re­sents Par­adise and toured the destruc­tion Fri­day. “The sad­ness is that be­yond all that, a lot of peo­ple who lost their homes will not be able to af­ford to re­turn once the im­prove­ments are com­pleted be­cause the cost of new hous­ing just keeps get­ting higher and higher.”

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