Thousands flee fast-moving California fire
PARADISE, Calif. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate a fast-moving wildfire that exploded in size Thursday, threatening several Northern California communities and forcing panicked residents to race to help neighbours who had to drive through walls of flames to escape.
It was not immediately known if there were injuries or fatalities.
Butte County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Miranda Bowersox said that all of Paradise, a town of about 27,000 people 180 miles (290 kilometres) northeast of San Francisco, was ordered to evacuate.
“It’s bad,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told the Enterprise-Record. “We’re trying to get as many people out as quickly as possible and save as many lives as we can.”
Rick Carhart, a Cal Fire spokesman, said the wildfire was reported at 6:30 a.m., affecting about 30,000 people in the towns of Paradise, Concow and other small communities.
“The blaze is being driven by fairly strong winds,” Carhart said. “It’s really dry and we have low humidity and unfortunately those are great conditions for a fire to spread.”
Thick grey smoke and ash filled the sky above Paradise and could be seen from miles away.
The Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise evacuated all its patients and staff, given its close proximity to the fire, and transported them safely to hospitals in neighbouring towns, said Jill Kinney, an Adventist Health spokeswoman. Four of the hospital’s employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.
Enloe Medical Center in nearby Chico received 24 patients, spokeswoman Jolene Francis said. Other patients were taken to Oroville Hospital in the city of Oroville.
Shary Bernacett said she and her husband tried to get people to leave the mobile home park they manage in Paradise and had minutes to evacuate as flames reached the east side of the town.
Bernacett said she and her husband “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many of the residents of 53 mobile homes and recreational vehicles as possible to leave.
“My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill’s on fire. God help us!” Bernacett said before breaking down crying.
The massive plume from the Camp Fire, burning in the Feather River Canyon near Paradise, Calif., wafts over the Sacramento Valley as seen from Chico, Calif., on Thursday.