Tens of thou­sands flee Calif. fire that ex­ploded in mat­ter of hours

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - REMEMBERING -

OROVILLE, Calif. — Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple fled a fast-mov­ing wild­fire Thurs­day in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, some clutch­ing ba­bies and pets as they aban­doned ve­hi­cles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that forced the evac­u­a­tion of an en­tire town.

Ev­ery­one in Par­adise, a com­mu­nity of 27,000 about 180 miles north­east of San Fran­cisco, was or­dered to get out. The ex­tent of the in­juries and dam­age was not im­me­di­ately known. Butte County CalFire Chief Dar­ren Read said at a news con­fer­ence that two fire­fight­ers and mul­ti­ple res­i­dents were in­jured.

As she fled, Gina Oviedo de­scribed a dev­as­tat­ing scene in which flames en­gulfed homes, sparked ex­plo­sions and top­pled util­ity poles.

“Things started ex­plod­ing,” Oviedo said. “Peo­ple started get­ting out of their ve­hi­cles and run­ning.”

Au­thor­i­ties were work­ing on a plan to re­move pa­tients from a hos­pi­tal af­ter res­cuers had to turn back be­cause of grid­locked traf­fic.

“It’s a very dan­ger­ous and very se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion,” Butte County Sher­iff Kory Honea said. “I’m driv­ing through fire as we speak. We’re do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to get peo­ple out of the af­fected ar­eas.”

Of­fi­cials were send­ing as many fire­fight­ers as they could, CalFire spokesman Rick Carhart said.

“Ev­ery en­gine that we could put on the fire is on the fire right now, and more are com­ing,” he said. “There are dozens of strike teams that we’re bring­ing in from all parts of the state.”

The sher­iff con­firmed re­ports that evac­uees had to aban­don their ve­hi­cles. He said res­cuers were try­ing to put them in other ve­hi­cles.

Thick grey smoke and ash filled the sky above Par­adise and could be seen from miles away.

At the hos­pi­tal with the stranded pa­tients, some build­ings caught fire and were dam­aged, but the main fa­cil­ity, Ad­ven­tist Health Feather River Hos­pi­tal, was not, spokes­woman Jill Kin­ney said.

Four hos­pi­tal em­ploy­ees were briefly trapped in the base­ment and res­cued by Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers, Kin­ney said. More than 40 pa­tients were evac­u­ated to other fa­cil­i­ties. Twenty oth­ers were still await­ing res­cue.

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