Thou­sands flee swift Cal­i­for­nia wild­fire

The Bradenton Herald - - Nation & World - BY DON THOMP­SON

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 and de­stroyed hun­dreds of struc­tures.

Ev­ery­one in Par­adise, a com­mu­nity of 27,000 peo­ple 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.”

At a late af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence, Read said he had re­ports of sev­eral hun­dred de­stroyed struc­tures in Par­adise, but he cau­tioned that of­fi­cials had not been able to as­sess yet.

He said of­fi­cials won’t have an ex­act count un­til they can get into the area. An As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tog­ra­pher saw dozens busi­nesses and homes lev­eled or in flames, in­clud­ing a liquor store and gas sta­tion.

“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.”

The blaze erupted as windy weather swept the state, cre­at­ing ex­treme fire dan­ger. A wind­whipped fire north of Los An­ge­les in Ven­tura County burned some 15,000 acres and at least one home in a mat­ter of hours. It prompted evac­u­a­tions of a mo­bile home park, a state uni­ver­sity cam­pus and a small com­mu­nity. A nearby blaze was smaller at less than 1,000 acres but mov­ing quickly.

Act­ing Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som de­clared a state of emer­gency for the North­ern Cal­i­for­nia fire­stricken area.

Shari Ber­nacett said her hus­band tried to get peo­ple to leave the Par­adise mo­bile home park they man­age.

He “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many res­i­dents as pos­si­ble, Ber­nacett said.

“My hus­band tried his best to get ev­ery­body out. The whole hill’s on fire. God help us!” she said be­fore break­ing down cry­ing. She and her hus­band grabbed their dog, jumped in their pickup truck and drove through flames be­fore get­ting to safety, she said.

Videos posted on so­cial me­dia, showed cars driv­ing along roads that looked like tun­nels of fire with flames on both sides of the road. Con­cerned friends and fam­ily posted fran­tic mes­sages on Twit­ter and other sites say­ing they were look­ing for loved ones, par­tic­u­larly se­niors who lived at re­tire­ment homes or alone.

Of­fi­cials were send­ing as many fire­fight­ers as they could, Cal Fire 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.

The fire was re­ported around day­break. Within six hours, it had grown to more than 26 square miles, Gad­die said.

DAVID LIT­TLE AP

A mas­sive plume from the Camp Fire, burn­ing in the Feather River Canyon near Par­adise, Calif., wafts over the Sacra­mento Val­ley as seen Thurs­day from Chico, Calif.

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