Northern California wildfires force thousands to flee Paradise as town burns



November 09, 2018 17:29:07

Tens of thousands of people are fleeing a fast-moving wildfire in Northern California, some clutching babies and pets as they abandon vehicles ahead of the flames.

Key points:

  • About 27,000 people were forced to evacuate from the town of Paradise, about 290km north-east of San Francisco
  • Thousands of structures in the path of the wildfires destroyed
  • Acting California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the fire-stricken area

All the residents of the township of Paradise were forced to evacuate, with the fire destroying hundreds of structures.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it’s that kind of devastation,” said Fire Captain Scott McLean on Thursday.

“The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out.”

He estimated that thousands of structures were destroyed in the town of 27,000 residents about 290 kilometres north-east of San Francisco.

The extent of the injuries and specific damage count was not immediately known, but Butte County Fire Chief Darren Read said at a news conference that two firefighters 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,” Ms Oviedo said.

“People started getting out of their vehicles and running.”

State of emergency declared in northern California

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 about 15,000 acres and at least one home in a matter of hours. It prompted evacuations of a mobile home park, a state university campus and a small community.

A nearby blaze was smaller at less than 1,000 acres but moving quickly.

Acting California Governor 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, Ms 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.

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.

Among them was Kim Curtis, who was searching for her grandmother, who told family at 8.00am local time on Thursday that she would flee her Paradise home in her Buick with her cat.

Ms Curtis’s grandmother, who is in her 70s and lives alone, never showed up at a meeting spot in Chico, though.

“We’ve just been posting all over social media. And just praying for a miracle, honestly,” said Ms Curtis, who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

More firefighters called in to battle wildfire

Officials were sending as many firefighters as they could, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (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.”

At the hospital in Paradise, more than 60 patients were evacuated to other facilities and some buildings caught fire and were damaged. But the main facility, Adventist Health Feather River Hospital, was not, spokeswoman Jill Kinney said.

Some of the patients were initially turned around during their evacuation because of gridlocked traffic and later airlifted to other hospitals, along with staff, Ms Kinney said.

Four hospital employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Ms Kinney said.

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.







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