Palm trees frame a home being destroyed by a wildfire above the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California on Friday. Nine people burned to death in the mountain town of Paradise while homeowners, including celebrities, fled the upscale beach community of Malibu as the fire burned out of control across California.
PARADISE (Reuters) — At least nine people were killed in a mountain town, 35 others were reported missing and residents were forced to flee the upscale beach community of Malibu as wildfires burned out of control across California on Friday.
All nine victims were found in and around the Northern California town of Paradise, where more than 6,700 homes and businesses were burned down by the Camp Fire, making it one of the most destructive in state history, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire protection data.
“This event was the worst-case scenario. It was the event we have feared for a long time,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a Friday evening press conference. “Regrettably, not everybody made it out.”
The remains of five of the victims were discovered in or near burned out cars, three outside residences and one inside a home, according to Honea. Three firefighters had been also reported injured.
The flames descended on Paradise so quickly that many people were forced to abandon their cars and run for their lives down the only road through the mountain town.
A school bus was among several abandoned vehicles left blackened by flames on one road.
The Camp Fire, which broke out on Thursday at the edge of the Plumas National Forest northeast of Sacramento, has since blackened more than 90,000 acres and only five percent has been contained as of nightfall on Friday.
A total of 6,453 homes had been destroyed in Paradise and elsewhere, Honea said, along with 260 commercial buildings. The Tubbs Fire, which destroyed 5,636 structures in Napa and Sonoma counties in October 2017, is listed by Cal Fire as the most destructive in state history.
In Malibu, some 500 miles to the south, flames driven by hot Santa Ana winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour raced down hillsides and through canyons toward multi-million dollar homes.
Thousands of residents packed the Pacific Coast Highway to head south or took refuge on beaches, along with their horses and other pets.
Among those forced to flee the Woolsey Fire, which had charred some 14,164 hectares as of Friday afternoon, were celebrities (See Celebrity News).
“Fire is now burning out of control and heading into populated areas of Malibu,” the city said in a statement online. “All residents must evacuate immediately.”
Some 95,000 residents have been evacuated in Ventura County alone, the county’s fire department said on Twitter on Friday night.
Authorities issued mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders within the City of Los Angeles for the West Hills area on Friday evening. It is unclear how many homes were within the evacuation areas.
The blaze, which spewed massive plumes of thick black smoke, also threatened parts of the nearby town of Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed 12 people on Wednesday in a shooting rampage at a college bar, stunning the bucolic Southern California community with a reputation for safety.
The Woolsey Fire broke out on Thursday and quickly jumped the 101 Freeway in several places. On Friday, it climbed over the Santa Monica Mountains toward Malibu.
As this developed, US President Donald Trump early yesterday said “gross mismanagement of forests” is to blame for two unchecked wildfires.
A resident looks at approaching flames on Friday as firefighters battle the California wildfire overnight that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks. Inset shows smoke from a wildfire in Calabasas.