FIRE IN PAR­ADISE

6 found dead, 157,000 evac­u­ated as wild­fire scorches Calif. town, of­fi­cials say

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Don Thomp­son and Gil­lian Flac­cus

PAR­ADISE, Calif. — A pow­er­ful wild­fire in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia 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. Six peo­ple died, in­clud­ing five who were found in burned ve­hi­cles.

Only a day af­ter it be­gan, the blaze near the town of Par­adise had grown to nearly 110 square miles and was burn­ing 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 in-

cluded the city of Mal­ibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is­sued an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion pro­vid­ing fed­eral funds for Butte, Ven­tura and Los An­ge­les coun­ties.

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, schools and a re­tire­ment cen­ter.

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 180 miles 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 peo­ple. Fire­fight­ers were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Cpt. 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.

Strong winds had blown the black­ened nee­dles on some ev­er­greens straight to one side. A scorched car with its doors open sat on the shoul­der.

Evac­uees from Par­adise sat in stunned si­lence Fri­day out­side a Chico church where they took refuge the night be­fore. They all had har­row­ing tales of a slow­mo­tion es­cape from a fire so close they could feel the heat in­side their ve­hi­cles as they sat stuck in a ter­ri­fy­ing traf­fic jam.

When the or­der came to evac­u­ate, it was like the en­tire town of 27,000 res­i­dents de­cided to leave at once, they said. Fire sur­rounded the evac­u­a­tion route, and driv­ers pan­icked. Some crashed and oth­ers left their ve­hi­cles by the road­side.

“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” po­lice Of­fi­cer Mark Bass said.

Con­cerned friends and fam­ily posted anx­ious mes­sages on Twit­ter and other sites, say­ing they were look­ing for loved ones, par­tic­u­larly se­niors who lived at re­tire­ment homes or alone.

About 20 of the same deputies who were help­ing to find and res­cue peo­ple lost their own homes, Sher­iff Kory Honea said.

“There are times when you have such rapid-mov­ing fires no amount of plan­ning is go­ing to re­sult in a per­fect sce­nario, and that’s what we had to deal with here,” Honea told the Ac­tion News Net­work.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, a wild­fire scorched a his­toric movie site re­cently used by the HBO se­ries “West­world,” claimed homes and prompted the to­tal evac­u­a­tion of the celebrity en­clave Mal­ibu.

Kim Kar­dashian West, Scott Baio, Rainn Wil­son and Guillermo del Toro are among nu­mer­ous celebri­ties forced to evac­u­ate their homes, in some cases hur­riedly try­ing to ar­range trans­port for their horses. Some, like del Toro and Cait­lyn Jen­ner, did not know the fate of their homes, but the wind-driven wild­fire has de­stroyed the home of “Dr. Strange” di­rec­tor Scott Der­rick­son and the his­toric Para­mount Ranch where shows like “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” were filmed.

Ac­tress Alyssa Mi­lano said her home is “in jeop­ardy.”

The blaze started Thurs­day night and by Fri­day had pushed to­ward Mal­ibu and the Pa­cific Ocean, prompt­ing evac­u­a­tions in Mal­ibu, Cal­abasas, Aguora Hills and other nearby ar­eas.

MATTHEW SIM­MONS/GETTY

The Woolsey Fire burns to­ward Para­mount Ranch in Agoura Hills, Calif.

RINGO H.W. CHIU/AP

A wild­fire en­gulfs a home near Mal­ibu Lake in Mal­ibu, Calif.

JOSH EDELSON/GETTY-AFP

A home is over­shad­owed by tow­er­ing smoke plumes as the Camp fire races through town in Par­adise, Calif.

DAVID MC­NEW/GETTY

Traf­fic jams the south­bound lanes of Pa­cific Coast High­way as all of the city of Mal­ibu is evac­u­ated to flee ad­vanc­ing flames dur­ing the Woolsey Fire.

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