Fast-mov­ing fire de­stroys most of town, killing 9 in Cal­i­for­nia

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - OP-ED - BY DON THOMP­SON AND PAUL ELIAS

PAR­ADISE, Calif. — A wild­fire in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia 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. Nine peo­ple died in what quickly grew into the state’s most de­struc­tive fire in at least a cen­tury.

Only a day af­ter it be­gan, the blaze near the town of Par­adise had grown to nearly 140 square miles, had de­stroyed more than 6,700 struc­tures — al­most all of them homes — and was burn­ing out of con­trol.

“There was re­ally no fire­fight in­volved,” said Capt. Scott McLean of the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion, ex­plain­ing that crews gave up at­tack­ing the flames and in­stead helped peo­ple get out. “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 about 250,000. Evac­u­a­tion or­ders in­cluded the en­tire city of Mal­ibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest stars.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is­sued an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion pro­vid­ing fed­eral funds for Butte, Ven­tura and Los An­ge­les coun­ties.

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 cen­ter.

Evac­uees from Par­adise sat in stunned si­lence Fri­day out­side a Chico church where they took refuge the night be­fore. They all had har­row­ing tales of a slow-mo­tion es­cape from a fire so close they could feel the heat in­side their ve­hi­cles as they sat stuck in a ter­ri­fy­ing traf­fic jam.

When the or­der came to evac­u­ate, it was like the en­tire town de­cided to leave at once, they said.

Fire sur­rounded the evac­u­a­tion route, and drivers pan­icked. Some crashed, and oth­ers left their ve­hi­cles by the road­side.

“It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us,” said po­lice of­fi­cer Mark Bass.

Ru­ral areas fared lit­tle bet­ter. Propane tanks at many homes were “go­ing off like bombs,” said Karen Au­day, who es­caped to a nearby town.

McLean, the fire cap­tain, said that “pretty much the com­mu­nity of Par­adise is de­stroyed. It’s that kind of dev­as­ta­tion,” he said.

The town is about 180 miles north­east of San Fran­cisco

About 20 of the same deputies who were help­ing to find and res­cue peo­ple lost their own homes, Sher­iff Kory Honea said.

The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000. Fire­fight­ers stopped the fire at the edge of the city, said Cal Fire Capt. Bill Mur­phy.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fire­fighter Jose Corona sprayed wa­ter as flames from the Camp Fire con­sumed a home in Ma­galia, Calif., on Fri­day.

A burned-out car sat on the side of the road af­ter a wild­fire in Par­adise, Calif.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.