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