Tens of thou­sands flee as wild­fire de­stroys town

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Don Thomp­son and Noah Berger

PA R A DIS E ,C A LI F. » 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 and de­stroyed hun­dreds of struc­tures.

“Pretty much the com­mu­nity of Par­adise is de­stroyed, it’s that kind of dev­as­ta­tion,” said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean late Thurs­day. “The wind that was pre­dicted came and just wiped it out.”

McLean es­ti­mated that a cou­ple of thou­sand struc­tures were de­stroyed in the town of 27,000 res­i­dents about 180 miles north­east of San Fran­cisco, was or­dered to get out. The ex­tent of the in­juries and spe­cific dam­age count was not im­me­di­ately known as of­fi­cials could not ac­cess the dan­ger­ous area.

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.”

An As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tog­ra­pher saw dozens of busi­nesses and homes lev­eled or in flames, in­clud­ing a liquor store and gas sta­tion.

“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.”

The blaze erupted as windy weather swept the state, cre­at­ing ex­treme fire dan­ger. A wind-whipped fire north of Los An­ge­les in Ven­tura County burned up to 15 square miles and at least one home in a mat­ter of hours. It threat­ened thou­sands of homes and prompted evac­u­a­tions of a mo­bile home park, a state univer­sity cam­pus and some neigh­bor­hoods. A nearby blaze was smaller at about 2 square miles but mov­ing quickly.

Act­ing Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som de­clared a state of emer­gency for the fire-stricken area in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Shari Ber­nacett said her hus­band tried to get peo­ple to leave the Par­adise mo­bile home park they man­age. He “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many res­i­dents as pos­si­ble, Ber­nacett said.

Ter­ri­fy­ing videos posted on so­cial me­dia showed cars driv­ing along roads that looked like tun­nels of fire with flames on both sides of the road.

Con­cerned friends and fam­ily posted fran­tic mes­sages on Twit­ter and other sites say­ing they were look­ing for loved ones, par­tic­u­larly se­niors who lived at re­tire­ment homes or alone.

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