THOU­SANDS FLEE WILD­FIRE

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple fled a fast-mov­ing wild­fire that raced through the com­mu­nity of Par­adise.

The Fresno Bee - - Front Page - BY DON THOMP­SON

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 peo­ple about 180 miles north­east of San Fran­cisco, was or­dered to get out. 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.”

Shari Ber­nacett said her hus­band tried to get peo­ple to leave the Par­adise mo­bile home park they man­age and had min­utes to evac­u­ate.

He “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many res­i­dents as pos­si­ble, Ber­nacett said.

“My hus­band tried his best to get every­body out. The whole hill’s on fire. God help us!” she said be­fore break­ing down cry­ing. She and her hus­band grabbed their dog, jumped in their pickup truck and drove through flames be­fore get­ting to safety, she said.

Of­fi­cials were send­ing as many fire­fight­ers as they could, Cal Fire 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.”

Butte County CalFire Chief Dar­ren Read said Thurs­day the de­struc­tion in the town of Par­adise could be up­ward of a thou­sand struc­tures, but of­fi­cials say they won’t have an ex­act count un­til they can get into the area.

Act­ing Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som has de­clared a state of emer­gency in the area.

The blaze in­jured some peo­ple, but the ex­tent of the in­juries was not im­me­di­ately known, said Capt. John Gad­die of the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion.

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

“We’re work­ing very hard to get peo­ple out. The mes­sage I want to get out is if you can evac­u­ate, you need to evac­u­ate,” Honea said.

The wild­fire was re­ported around day­break. Within six hours, it had grown to more than 26 square miles, Gad­die said.

“The blaze is be­ing driven by fairly strong winds,” Carhart said. “It’s re­ally dry and we have low hu­mid­ity, and un­for­tu­nately those are great con­di­tions for a fire to spread.”

Thick gray 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.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice is­sued red-flag warn­ings for fire dan­gers in many ar­eas of the state, say­ing low hu­mid­ity and strong winds were ex­pected to con­tinue through Fri­day evening.

DAVID LIT­TLE AP

The mas­sive plume from the Camp Fire, burn­ing in the Feather River Canyon near Par­adise, wafts over the Sacra­mento Val­ley as seen Thurs­day from Chico. Au­thor­i­ties in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia have or­dered manda­tory evac­u­a­tions in a ru­ral area where the wild­fire ex­ploded in size amid hot and windy weather.

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