CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE CLAIMS FIVE LIVES
Five people were found dead in their burned-out vehicles after a Northern California wildfire incinerated most of a town of about 30,000 people with flames that moved so fast there was nothing firefighters could do, authorities said Friday.
Only a day after it began, the blaze near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 110 square miles (285 square kilometres) and was burning completely out of control.
“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 get out alive. “These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday.’’
With fires also burning in Southern California, state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at 157,000. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
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 centre.
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 (290 kilometres) northeast of San Francisco.
“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,’’ he said.
The massive blaze spread north 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 fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Cpt. Bill Murphy said.
There were no signs of life Friday on the road to Paradise except for the occasional bird chirp. A thick, yellow haze from the fire hung in the air and gave the appearance of twilight in the middle of the day.
Strong winds had blown the blackened needles on some evergreens straight to one side. A scorched car with its doors open sat on the shoulder.
Firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames consume a home in Magalia, Calif., on Friday.