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