9 die as wild­fire torches town

Rac­ing flames de­vour thou­sands of homes

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - FROM WIRE RE­PORTS

PAR­ADISE, Calif. — A fierce wild­fire in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia in­cin­er­ated most of the town of Par­adise with flames that moved so fast there was noth­ing fire­fight­ers could do, au­thor­i­ties said Fri­day. At least nine peo­ple were killed, some in their cars as they tried to flee.

Only a day af­ter it be­gan, the blaze near Par­adise, a town of 30,000 peo­ple in the foothills of the Sierra Ne­vada, had grown to nearly 140 square miles, de­stroyed more than 6,700 struc­tures — al­most all of them homes — and was burn­ing out of con­trol. It was the state’s most de­struc­tive fire in at least a cen­tury.

“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 to get out alive. “Th­ese fire­fight­ers were in the res­cue mode all day.”

With fires also burn­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, state offi­ cials put the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple forced from their homes at about 250,000. Evac­u­a­tion or­ders in­cluded the en­tire city of Mal­ibu, which is home to 13,000, in­clud­ing some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars.

The fire­prone state was bat­tling three ma­jor fires, the one in the north­ern Sier­ras and two west of Los An­ge­les. Ex­otic lemurs and par­rots were packed up and car­ried to safety as fires ringed the Los An­ge­les Zoo in Grif­fith Park.

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 cen­

ter.

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.

‘A wall of fire’

While the cause of the fire wasn’t known, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co. told state reg­u­la­tors it ex­pe­ri­enced an out­age on an elec­tri­cal trans­mis­sion line near Par­adise about 15 min­utes be­fore the blaze broke out. The com­pany said it later no­ticed dam­age to a trans­mis­sion tower near the town.

The mas­sive blaze spread north on Fri­day, prompt­ing of­fi­cials to or­der the evac­u­a­tion of Stir­ling City and In­skip, two com­mu­ni­ties north of Par­adise along the Sierra Ne­vada foothills.

The wind­driven flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000 peo­ple. Fire­fight­ers were able to stop the blaze at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Capt. Bill Mur­phy said.

There were few signs of life Fri­day on the road to Par­adise. A thick, yel­low haze from the fire hung in the air and gave the ap­pear­ance of twi­light in the mid­dle of the day.

At one burned­out house, flames still smol­dered in­side what ap­peared to be a weight room. The rub­ble in­cluded a pair of dumb­bells with the rub­ber melted off and the skele­tons of a metal pullup bar and other ex­er­cise equip­ment. The grass and elab­o­rate land­scap­ing all around the brick and stucco home re­mained an emer­ald green. Red pool um­brel­las were furled near lounge chairs and showed not a singe on them.

Evac­uees from Par­adise sat in stunned si­lence Fri­day out­side a Chico church where they had taken refuge the night be­fore. 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 as if 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.

Of­fi­cials said all the vic­tims were found in Par­adise, in­clud­ing four who died in­side their ve­hi­cles.

‘Wor­ried sick’

Con­cerned friends and fam­i­lies 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 rapid­mov­ing 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.

Kelly Lee called shel­ters look­ing for her hus­band’s 93year­old grand­mother, Dorothy Her­rera, who was last heard from Thurs­day morn­ing. Her­rera, who lives in Par­adise with her 88­year­old hus­band, Lou, left a fran­tic voice­mail around 9:30 a.m. say­ing they needed to get out.

“We never heard from them again,” Lee said. “We’re wor­ried sick. … They do have a car, but they both are older and can be con­fused at times.”

For one des­per­ate day, Dawn John­son anx­iously waited for news of her fa­ther, Richard Wayne Wil­son, and his wife, Suzanne, who lived in an RV park in Par­adise that burned. The cou­ple moved from Texas to the Cal­i­for­nia foothills town about a year ago.

He has late­stage cancer, and she is mostly con­fined to her bed, John­son said.

John­son of In­de­pen­dence, Ore., re­lied on fel­low mem­bers of the cou­ple’s Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses con­gre­ga­tion to check lo­cal shel­ters. By Fri­day af­ter­noon, she learned they had been found in nearby Chico.

“They are fine,” she said.

Ringo H.W. Chiu/the As­so­ci­ated Press

A he­li­copter bat­tled a wild­fire Fri­day in Mal­ibu, all of which was un­der an evac­u­a­tion or­der. Hun­dreds of miles to the north, Cal­i­for­nia’s worst fire in a cen­tury con­sumed most of the town of Par­adise, killing nine peo­ple. Four died in their cars while try­ing to flee.

Matthew Sim­mons/getty Images

One of the three ma­jor fires tor­ment­ing Cal­i­for­nia spooked horses near Thou­sands Oaks, which was al­ready reel­ing from a gun­man’s Wed­nes­day night at­tack that killed 12.

Jenna Schoenefeld/the New York Times

Smoke bil­lowed above U.S. High­way 101 in Thou­sand Oaks on Fri­day morn­ing as thou­sands evac­u­ated. The blaze was one of two burn­ing west of Los An­ge­les.

Noah Berger/the As­so­ci­ated Press

A van con­tin­ued to burn Thurs­day as a fire raced through the north­ern Cal­i­for­nia town of Par­adise. Four of the nine peo­ple killed there died in their cars while try­ing to flee.

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