Wildfires ravage both ends of California; 5 deaths reported
Even in a state hardened to the ravages of wildfires, the infernos that raged at both ends of California on Friday were overpowering.
Malibu mansions burned. Five people died in their cars in a retirement community called Paradise. And in the neighborhood in Thousand Oaks where a gunman had killed 12 people in a crowded bar earlier in the week, survivors now fled the flames.
The fire-prone state was battling three major fires, one in the northern Sierra and two west of Los Angeles. In the northern town of Paradise, the ruins of houses and businesses smoldered throughout the day, while in Southern California, tens of thousands of residents fled their homes and jammed onto highways. Exotic lemurs and parrots were packed up and carried away to safety as fires ringed the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park.
“It’s phenomenal how fast the fire spread,” said Scott McLean, deputy chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said of the fire in Paradise, where he had rescued a lone, older woman rolling down a road in her wheelchair Thursday. As firefighters struggled to contain the flames, and as a thick blanket of smoke turned day into night, McLean said he feared the death toll would rise higher. Abandoned cars on a central street were evidence that many had fled the ferociously fast fire on foot.
It was too early to know how many of them made it out of Paradise alive.
In Thousand Oaks, there was grief compounded by grief. Just as residents were coming to terms with a shooting at a country music bar, the wind-driven fires swept thousands of residents from their homes.
Dylan McNey, a 22-year-old carpenter, was a triple survivor. McNey has lived through two mass shootings just a year apart:
first, at the county music festival in Las Vegas, then once again at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks this week. McNey used to work as a security guard at the Borderline and said he is there at least a couple of times a week.
Although his friends had all survived the Las Vegas shooting, a woman he helped to escape eventually died of her wounds, he said. Six of his friends were killed at the Borderline shooting.
On Thursday afternoon, he gathered at his house with several friends so they could be together in their grief. When they received an evacuation order, his mother and sister left. But McNey decided to stay put, along with his father, a former firefighter, and watched the fire from their backyard.
“We had a good view from where it was starting,” he said.
Bill Vano, a Thousand Oaks resident who was evacuated as the fire approached, said he felt whipsawed.
“It’s a lot real fast – I don’t know how to process it,” Vano said. “I’m confused, walking around in a fog right now.”
In Paradise, emergency crews looked for the missing, an endeavor complicated by the fire’s continued strength, said Megan McMann, a coordinator with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
The bodies of five people were found “in vehicles that were overcome” by the flames, Sheriff Kory L. Honea of Butte County said, adding that they had been so badly burned, they could not immediately be identified. A sixth body was found Friday, but officials said the circumstances of that death were still unclear.
California’s governorelect, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency Friday in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. On Thursday, he declared an emergency in northern Butte County and asked President Donald Trump for federal assistance.
More than 1.4 million acres have burned so far this year in the state, said McLean, the Cal Fire deputy chief, roughly equal to the totals from the very destructive year of 2017.
And while the strong winds known as Santa Ana contributed to the bigger fires, the link with climate change is inextricable, said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
In Southern California, authorities ordered the complete evacuation of Malibu, the affluent community that is home to many Hollywood celebrities, as the fire raced through the hills and canyons above the Pacific Ocean. No part of the fire was under control, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.
The National Park Service said Friday that Western Ranch, a movie set built by Paramount Pictures in Agoura, in the hills outside Los Angeles, had burned down.
Thick columns of smoke rose into the azure Southern California skies as the Woolsey Fire burned 14,000 acres west of Los Angeles. Residents in more than 75,000 homes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties were told to evacuate.
The fire shut down the 101 freeway, a major transportation artery connecting Los Angeles with points north.
The Camp Fire rages through the town of Paradise, Calif., in Butte County late Thursday. Dozens of businesses and homes were destroyed as the fire moved faster than firefighters could react to it. The blaze had burned more than 70,000 acres, authorities said.
Fire smolders in a destroyed home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Friday. Residents in more than 75,000 homes in the area were evacuated.
Smoke from the Woolsey Fire looms above Highway 101 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Friday morning.