Wildfire forces thousands to escape
Camp fire has killed multiple people, injured several others and destroyed up to 1,000 homes
PARADISE » Tens of thousands of residents racing to escape a deadly wildfire in Butte County on Thursday jammed roads from Paradise to Chico, according to authorities, as smoke from the blaze choked Bay Area skies.
Some evacuees abandoned their vehicles while trying to flee through an inferno that had burned 20,000 acres and was 20 percent contained by about 7 p.m., according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as the fire claimed multiple lives, injured several others and, according to Capt. Scott McLean, “pretty much” destroyed Paradise.
“That is the worst fire I have ever seen in
my life,” said Caroline Bolin at the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley, which is being used as an evacuation center. “I’ve never been in that thick of a fire. I’m very scared. I never felt like that before in my life. But I feel better now that I’m here. Please, people, when it says to get out, get out. They mean it.”
Smoke from the blaze, dubbed the Camp fire, drifted into the Bay Area, leading the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to issue an advisory through at least today.
“We’re asking people to limit their time outdoors,” agency spokesman Walter Wallace said. “Even if you’re healthy, you’re going to be impacted.”
The air- quality monitoring site AirNow.gov reported shortly before 5 p.m. that air quality had reached “unhealthy” levels in Richmond, Oakland, Napa and Concord, among other cities. The site is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The fire ignited in the Feather River Canyon about 6:30 a. m. Thursday and scorched 5,000 acres in the first 3½ hours, according to Cal Fire.
“The blaze is being driven by fairly strong winds,” Cal Fire spokesman Rick Carhart said. “It’s really dry and we have low humidity, and unfortunately those are great conditions for a fire to spread.”
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the fire was causing a “very dangerous and very serious situation.”
Some 27,000 people in the city of Paradise have been ordered to evacuate.
“We’re doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas,” Honea said.
He confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles as they fled the scene.
“We’re getting them on other vehicles with room. 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.
Evacuation orders have also been issued for East Chico, Magalia, Concow, Yankee Hill and upper Butte Creek Canyon. The community of Forest Ranch is under an evacuation warning.
Cal Fire-Butte County Chief Darren Read said he had no estimate when evacuees would be able to return.
The Chico Enterprise-Record described “a chaotic scene as people tried to leave” Paradise, with reports of structures on fire. Two firefighters and multiple civilians were taken to hospitals with injuries, and a pregnant woman went into labor while stuck in traffic.
Some of the evacuees were beginning to set up camp in the newspaper’s parking lot.
Resident Gina Oviedo said there was fire everywhere as she got out of the town, and people abandoned their vehicles to flee the blaze, holding babies and pets as they escaped.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Paul Moreno said about 32,000 customers are without power as a result of the fire in Butte and Plumas counties, which includes those in the Paradise, Pulga and Concow areas.
No public safety power shut off has been implemented.
Butte College provided an update on its website indicating the main campus in Oroville will be closed today for “precautionary measures” and added the campus is not threatened.
Shari Bernacett said she and her husband tried to get people to leave the mobile home park they manage in Paradise and had minutes to evacuate as flames reached the east side of the town.
She and her husband “knocked on doors, yelled and screamed” to alert as many of the residents of 53 mobile homes and recreational vehicles as possible to leave, Bernacett said.
“My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill’s on fire. God help us!” Bernacett said before breaking down crying.
A home is claimed by the Camp Fire as it burns on Wagstaffe Road in Paradise on Thursday.
Juanita and Wayne McLish sit on a curb after losing their home in the Camp fire raging through Paradise on Thursday.