9 die as wildfires ravage both ends of California
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. Nine people died in a retirement community called Paradise, in the state’s most destructive fire ever. 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, and fire officials put the total of structures destroyed at 6,713, making it the state’s most destructive fire ever. 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 22year-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 Camp Fire rages through the town of Paradise, Calif., in Butte County late Thursday. Dozens of businesses and home were destroyed by the fire.