Paradise lost in devastating fire
PARADISE: A fastmoving wildfire devastated a Northern California town of 26,000 people yesterday, leaving authorities unsure of the casualties as they struggled to contain 45m flames.
Driven by strong winds and dry conditions, the blaze, dubbed the Camp Fire, roared through the town of Paradise, about 240km north of Sacramento, forcing the population to flee in a chaotic mass evacuation.
Fire ripped through residential areas and flames leapt from hospitals and schools, according to a witness, who saw a car dealership go up in flames on a street clogged with burnedout vehicles and an abandoned police cruiser.
‘‘The town is devastated. Everything is destroyed,’’ said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Maclean. ‘‘There’s nothing much left standing.’’
‘‘We have received reports of some fatalities. Those reports have not yet been verified,’’ Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference.
The fire was the fiercest of several winddriven blazes across California yesterday, during one of the state’s worst years for wildfires.
‘‘The whole town is burning,’’ Bob Van Camp, a Paradise resident who escaped on his motorbike, told local TV channel Action News Now. ‘‘We had to ride through flames to get here,’’ he said from the road between Paradise and Chico.
The town has limited escape routes and traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock. Residents abandoned vehicles and ran from the flames carrying children and pets. One woman stuck in traffic went into labour, the EnterpriseRecord newspaper reported.
The blaze began early yesterday and had charred 8093ha by the afternoon, said Cal Fire spokesman Rick Carhart.
Rescuers used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out of the way to reach Feather River Hospital and evacuate patients as flames engulfed the building, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter told reporters.
The hospital was destroyed, operator Dignity Health said.
Firefighting aircraft were unable to operate due to high winds, which were forecast to strengthen last night.
Maclean said it could be days before authorities knew the extent of fatalities and destruction.
Late last night, the fire had advanced to the outskirts of Chico, a city of 93,000 about 145km north of Sacramento, forcing thousands to flee. — Reuters
Inferno: A Paradise home is engulfed in flames.PHOTO: REUTERS