Tens of thousands flee Calif. fire that exploded in matter of hours
OROVILLE, Calif. — Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evacuation of an entire town.
Everyone in Paradise, a community of 27,000 about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco, was ordered to get out. The extent of the injuries and damage was not immediately known. Butte County CalFire Chief Darren Read said at a news conference that two firefighters and multiple residents were injured.
As she fled, Gina Oviedo described a devastating scene in which flames engulfed homes, sparked explosions and toppled utility poles.
“Things started exploding,” Oviedo said. “People started getting out of their vehicles and running.”
Authorities were working on a plan to remove patients from a hospital after rescuers had to turn back because of gridlocked traffic.
“It’s a very dangerous and very serious situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “I’m driving through fire as we speak. We’re doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas.”
Officials were sending as many firefighters as they could, CalFire spokesman Rick Carhart said.
“Every engine that we could put on the fire is on the fire right now, and more are coming,” he said. “There are dozens of strike teams that we’re bringing in from all parts of the state.”
The sheriff confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles. He said rescuers were trying to put them in other vehicles.
Thick grey smoke and ash filled the sky above Paradise and could be seen from miles away.
At the hospital with the stranded patients, some buildings caught fire and were damaged, but the main facility, Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, was not, spokeswoman Jill Kinney said.
Four hospital employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said. More than 40 patients were evacuated to other facilities. Twenty others were still awaiting rescue.