Wild­fire forces thou­sands to es­cape

Camp fire has killed mul­ti­ple peo­ple, in­jured sev­eral oth­ers and de­stroyed up to 1,000 homes

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BUTTE COUNTY By Mark Gomez, Rick Hurd and Ja­son Green Staff writ­ers

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.

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