Entire California Town Destroyed; Tens of Thousands Flee in Los Angeles, Ventura Counties

Entire California Town Destroyed; Tens of Thousands Flee in Los Angeles, Ventura Counties
Wildfire devastates California town of Paradise
Nicole Kowalczyke of Chico stepped outside to look at smoke from the Camp Fire Thursday morning, and a singed piece of paper fell from the sky.

Nicole Kowalczyke of Chico stepped outside to look at smoke from the Camp Fire Thursday morning, and a singed piece of paper fell from the sky.

Camp Fire devastates Paradise near Chico — businesses, church, numerous homes burn

Smoke blankets the air over the California State University, Chico, which is 15 miles from the Camp Fire burning near Paradise, Calif. on Nov. 8, 2018.

(CNN)A wildfire is hopscotching across a northern California county at a rate of roughly 80 football fields per minute, forcing evacuations, injuring residents and firefighters, and sending families racing from their homes.

Smoke blankets the air over the California State University, Chico, which is 15 miles from the Camp Fire burning near Paradise, Calif. on Nov. 8, 2018.

Video: Very dangerous northern California wildfire blankets sky in thick, black smoke

Evacuation centers for residents, animals impacted by Camp Fire

After evacuating from her home in Paradise, Angie Waltmon wipes away a tear while watching the Camp Fire from along Highway 191 in Butte County.

Video: 27000 People Told To Evacuate California Town Of Paradise Due To Impending Wildfire | TIME

After evacuating from her home in Paradise, Angie Waltmon wipes away a tear while watching the Camp Fire from along Highway 191 in Butte County.

Video: This is what residents fleeing the Camp Fire in Paradise saw as flames burned along escape route

Map: Camp Fire and evacuation zones near Paradise

Crews struggle to contain the fast-moving Camp Fire as it burns off of Pentz Road in Paradise (Butte County).

The wildfire, dubbed the Camp Fire, has exploded to 8,000 acres amid hot and windy weather conditions. 

Crews struggle to contain the fast-moving Camp Fire as it burns off of Pentz Road in Paradise (Butte County).

Wildfire smoke moves into Sacramento, Stockton regions

Authorities yell to drivers to evacuate the area off of Pentz Road in Paradise (Butte County) during the Camp Fire.

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. 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. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Authorities yell to drivers to evacuate the area off of Pentz Road in Paradise (Butte County) during the Camp Fire.

PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said about 34,000 customers in Butte and Plumas counties are without power. The fire has consumed more than 26 square miles (69 square kilometers) and forced residents of the town of Paradise to evacuate. The town of about 27,000 people is 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints burns during Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.. on Thursday, November 8, 2018.

Tina Greer says the Paradise care home where her disabled son lives with five other patients is evacuating, but it takes time to pack the patients' medical equipment and medicine. Her 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy, needs a wheelchair to get around and is fed through a tube.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints burns during Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.. on Thursday, November 8, 2018.

Bernacett said 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 the area Thursday morning as authorities ordered the area evacuated.

A hotshot firefighter watches as the Camp Fire burns off of Pentz Road in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

She says she heard from a friend that people, horses and dogs had congregated in a parking lot of a Kmart in the town of Paradise. The friend waiting there with dogs in her car described to her all the trees around the store as on fire.

Camp Fire forces evacuations in Northern California

A hotshot firefighter watches as the Camp Fire burns off of Pentz Road in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

The Ventura County Fire Department has also ordered evacuation of some communities in the path of the fire, which erupted a few miles from the site of Wednesday night's deadly mass shooting at a Thousand Oaks bar.

A firefighter works to save a house off of Pentz Road during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

San Francisco Bay Area air quality officials say the fire is sending smoke into the area, and children, elderly and people with respiratory problems should take precautions. The sky was hazy in San Francisco.

Patients Rescued From Burning Hospital In Butte County

A firefighter works to save a house off of Pentz Road during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

The Latest: 20 patients sent back to evacuated hospital

Inmate firefighters dig a trench to try and save a house off of Pentz Road during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

All schools in Butte County canceled Friday

Inmate firefighters dig a trench to try and save a house off of Pentz Road during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Shary Bernacett says she and her husband tried to get people to leave the mobile home park they manage in Paradise, California, with just minutes to evacuate as a wildfire approached the east side of town.

Video shows terrifying escape from Butte County flames

A line of cars evacuate on Hwy. 191 during Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.. on Thursday, November 8, 2018.

Gaddie said he was aware of four or five injuries, but no deaths. He said the fast-moving flames forced fire crews to shelter people at a Walgreens and other locations until flames passed through.

A line of cars evacuate on Hwy. 191 during Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.. on Thursday, November 8, 2018.

“This fire did move through the town of Paradise quickly,” said Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold. “We’re very grateful for our partnerships with allied agencies, Cal Fire, our agency, the town staff worked as quickly as possible to evacuate, using our evacuation plans. And the things that we’ve trained for over the years. There is a lot of devastation in town. Just to reiterate, we can’t confirm how many structures, but at this point it’s very devastating to the town.’

Evacuees Heidi Bigelow (right) and daughter Marina Joy Bigelow, 18 (left) who fled their home in Paradise, take a moment with each other at the Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Evacuees Heidi Bigelow (right) and daughter Marina Joy Bigelow, 18 (left) who fled their home in Paradise, take a moment with each other at the Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Evacuees who were able to get out of town often found themselves in gridlock. A pregnant woman stuck in traffic went into labor. In the late morning, Highway 99 northbound was clogged from south of Durham-Pentz Road to Chico. A number of people took a U-turn across the median to get off the freeway at Durham-Pentz and head toward Durham, but the Midway was backed up northbound as well.

Cars escape the Camp Fire as they drive south on Pentz Road in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Residents in Paradise, Magalia, Concow, Yankee Hill and Butte Creek Canyon were initially ordered to evacuate. Thursday evening the evacuation order was extended from Forest Ranch south to Chico, and later to Cherokee and Oro-Chico Highway near Durham. Then the east Chico evacuations were ordered, followed by an order covering everything north of Highway 70 and east of Highway 149

Cars escape the Camp Fire as they drive south on Pentz Road in Paradise, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

The county set up evacuation centers at Oroville Nazarene Church (2238 Monte Vista Ave.) and Neighborhood Church in Chico (2801 Notre Dame Blvd.), but both of those were reported full Thursday evening. Another shelter at the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley still had space. At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, another shelter was opened at the Chico Elks Lodge (1705 Manzanita Ave.).

(l-r) Evacuees Joanne Hansen and granddaugter Annalyce Johnson, 9, sit outside of the Red Cross shelter after evacuating their home in Paradise area in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. They planned to sleep in their car for the night.

The fire moved so fast that people were cut off by the flames and sheltered in large asphalt parking areas. Radio traffic Thursday afternoon indicated 300 people were at the Kmart lot on Clark Road, with fire in all directions. Another 100 were at a storage business at Clark and Skyway. Still another group gathered at the Holiday Market parking lot on Skyway.

(l-r) Evacuees Joanne Hansen and granddaugter Annalyce Johnson, 9, sit outside of the Red Cross shelter after evacuating their home in Paradise area in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. They planned

Evacuee Marvis (center) takes a moment as she listens to her son Jason (right) at the Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Evacuee Marvis (center) takes a moment as she listens to her son Jason (right) at the Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Cal Fire-Butte County Chief Darren Read said in the afternoon that hundreds of structures in Paradise have burned, perhaps as many as 1,000. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said there are reports of multiple fatalities, and authorities are trying to verify how many.

Evacuee John J. Underhill rests at the Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Evacuee John J. Underhill rests at the Red Cross shelter in Chico, California, on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Around 2:30 p.m., Cal Fire said 20,000 acres had burned with no containment. The fire was exhibiting extreme fire behavior, Cal Fire public information officer Rick Carhart said. Firefighters are expecting sustained winds up to 30-35 mph on the fire.

PARADISE, Butte County — More than 30,000 people fled for their lives Thursday as a late-season wildfire swept across this town in the Sierra foothills, incinerating numerous homes and businesses and prompting desperate rescues of residents trapped inside buildings and on clogged evacuation routes.

The fire started in the Feather River Canyon near Pulga and Highway 70, then burned west. It jumped to 18,000 acres in eight hours Thursday, ripping across the Concow Valley and into and across Paradise.

The blaze exploded to more than 20,000 acres, adding to a catastrophic two years of wildfires in California that have raised new questions about how the state will cope with a warmer and drier climate.

“We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road,” said police officer Mark Bass, who lives in the hard-hit town of Paradise and works in neighboring Chico. He evacuated his family and then returned to the fire to help rescue several disabled residents, including a man trying to carry his bedridden wife to safety. “It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us.”

Smoke turned the daytime sky black in Paradise, a community of 27,000 that sits 15 miles east of Chico and 80 miles north of Sacramento. Authorities raced to evacuate a hospital while calling in hundreds of crews from across the region to attack the flames from the ground and by air.

Meanwhile, portions of Southern California remained under siege early Friday with reports that two large fires had scorched about 15,000 acres and were threatening numerous communities. ABC7.com reported that some 75,000 homes are under evacuation orders along the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

The Latest: Town of Paradise ordered evacuated for fire

“There’s pretty much complete devastation in that community — entire streets where houses are wiped out,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It’s not looking very good at all.”

“Most of them were immobile with walkers, or spouses that were bed-ridden, so we were trying to get additional units to come and try and help us, just taking as many as we could,” he said, describing the community as having “a lot of elderly, a lot of immobile people, some low-income with no vehicles.”

Video clips from Camp Fire, wildfire growing rapidly in Butte County, California on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate several Sierra foothills towns near Chico as a wildfire raged out of control.

Camp Fire: Several hundred structures destroyed | Updates

As of Thursday evening, the Camp Fire had no containment, and 15,000 structures were threatened. The flames moved within 2 miles of Chico city limits, and around 9 p.m., residents in the southern part of the city were advised to evacuate.

Kelly Lee called shelters looking for her husbands 93-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Herrera, who was last heard from on Thursday morning. Herrera, who lives in Paradise with her 88-year-old husband Lou Herrera, left a frantic voicemail at around 9:30 a.m. saying they needed to get out.

The Camp Fire burns in Paradise on Nov. 8, 2018.”,”kind”:”MANUAL”}; HDN.jwplayers[player-94615].mute = true; HDN.jwplayers[player-94615].startenabled = true; HDN.jwplayers[player-94615].useRelatedVideo = true; HDN.jwplayers[player-94615].isAutomatched = false; HDN.jwplayers[player-94615].useFloatPlayer = true; Now Playing: Now Playing A fire crew keeps an eye on the Camp Fire Media: San Francisco Chronicle The Camp Fire burns in a Paradise neighborhood Media: Gabrielle Lurie A home in Paradise burns during the Camp Fire Media: Gabrielle Lurie fire1109_video4 Media: Gabrielle Lurie The Camp Fire burns in Paradise on Nov. 8, 2018.

Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Paul Elias, Janie Har, Daisy Nguyen, Olga R. Rodriguez, Sudhin Thanawala and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Sophia Bollag in Sacramento, Michelle A. Monroe in Phoenix and Jennifer Sinco Kelleher in Honolulu contributed to this report.

High winds were hampering air tankers’ efforts to extinguish the flames, said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean. Similar winds were expected to continue through the night. Red-flag conditions were in place until at least 10 a.m. Friday.

Many abandoned their cars on the side of the road, fleeing on foot. Cars and trucks, some with trailers attached, were left on the roadside as evacuees ran for their lives, said Bass, the police officer. “They were abandoned because traffic was so bad, backed up for hours.”

Fire officials said they had received reports of some deaths from the blaze. At least two firefighters were injured. Several hundred homes, and perhaps more than 1,000, had burned.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, its that kind of devastation,” said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean late Thursday. He estimated that a couple of thousand structures were destroyed in the town about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.

“We were engulfed in flames,” said Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter. “I don’t know what we are coming back to after this. Probably a moonscape. As we drove out, homes were burnt to the ground.”

Among the structures lost to the flames were a McDonald’s, a Mormon church, a Black Bear Diner and Paradise’s wood welcome sign. Streams of residents hurried out of town, inching along the few available routes.

Harrowing tales of escape and heroic rescues emerged from Paradise, where the entire community of 27,000 was ordered to evacuate. Witnesses reported seeing homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement home up in flames.

California: tens of thousands evacuated as wildfire explodes in size

Family members and friends searched for scores of missing people. They inundated 911 with hundreds of requests for help tracking down people who were feared trapped behind fire lines. They flooded Twitter too, posting names and photos of loved ones, along with the addresses where they’d last been seen.

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

The cause of the fire, which ignited at 6:30 a.m., was under investigation. Authorities released no immediate information about the extent of the damage and the toll of injuries. The inferno was so huge that dense smoke clogged skies throughout the Bay Area — roughly 200 miles southwest of the blaze — and residents across Northern California were warned to expect poor air quality through Friday.

Evacuation efforts were “difficult, to say the least,” said Lt. Al Smith of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, noting that several deputies who ventured into evacuation zones to rescue residents also became trapped by flames burning around them. “I can’t think of an area that’s safe right now.”

The blaze, named the Camp Fire because of its proximity to Camp Creek Road near Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon, was scorching several areas within Paradise, which is home to many retirees. Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom, filling in while Gov. Jerry Brown traveled out of state, declared a state of emergency in Butte County.

The Butte County towns of Paradise, Pulga and Concow were evacuated shortly after the fire started. Cal Fire officials said residents of Magalia, Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley had also been ordered to leave.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. reported that 34,280 customers in Butte County and neighboring Plumas County had lost power.

Wildfires Prompt Evacuation Orders in California

Firefighters spent the morning trying to evacuate trapped Paradise residents while creating firebreaks within the town and even moving some people to empty parking lots. Engines from the San Francisco and Santa Rosa fire departments and other California agencies were aiding Butte County firefighters.

The Paradise Unified School District and Butte College closed their doors Thursday morning under evacuation orders from fire officials. The Paradise schools superintendent said she had seen photos of several schools burning.

Feather River Hospital in Paradise was evacuated after flames jumped a road leading to the hospital. Fire officials said some people were trapped in a tunnel under the hospital and forced to shelter in place before escaping. The hospital largely survived, but an auxiliary building burned, according to Cal Fire.

Paradise Lost: Camp Fire Photo Gallery

“In the past few years, just the way fires have moved, firefighters have had to help with evacuations before they can go back in to put out the fire,” Tolmachoff said.

Butte County officials did not send an Amber Alert-style message to warn people in and around Paradise about the rapidly spreading fire early Thursday, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said. Instead, the department turned to an opt-in program to contact an estimated 23,000 people who had signed up to receive emergency notifications or who had landline telephones.

In October 2017, Sonoma County officials opted not to send out the Amber Alert-style message during the Tubbs Fire, which eventually killed 24 people. That decision was criticized later in a state audit.

In Paradise on Thursday morning, Jennifer Broussard, 41, woke to thunder — or at least that’s what the fire sounded like, she said.

She and her husband, Ryan, 50, left their home in a rush. Both in their pajamas, they had no time to change into anything else. Police were everywhere shouting, “Move! Go! Get out!”

She moved from Los Angeles to Paradise 20 years ago, and was surprised upon arriving in town how clear the stars were at night. But in the daytime Thursday, she couldn’t see anything except black smoke obscuring the sun and sky.

“The simple things we take for granted,” Broussard said at an evacuation shelter in Oroville. She tapped ash from her cigarette on the concrete and said, “That is a whole town gone.”

Butte County Fire: 18,000 acres destroyed, thousands flee Camp Fire wildfire

The intensity of the Camp Fire’s surge through Paradise drew immediate comparisons to the Tubbs Fire, which wiped out whole neighborhoods in and around Santa Rosa, and the Carr Fire, which blitzed Redding this year. Gov. Brown and others have raised alarm about the nearly year-round danger in the state, but no broad solutions have surfaced. Twice in the past two years, fires have set the state record for size.

In the tiny town of Concow, northeast of Paradise, Nate Tockey, 35, got a call from a neighbor at 7 a.m. warning him about the fire. He woke his three children, warned his wife and saw a dark, orange sky when he went to the porch.

His wife, Kat Tockey, 36, left her purse behind, and they didn’t bother to grab their computer or important papers from a filing cabinet. By the time the five of them piled into a car, 50- to 100-foot flames were approaching from three sides. They could feel the heat through the closed windows of their sport utility vehicle.

“At this point I’m pretty sure the house is gone. I’m prepared for the worst,” Nate Tockey said. “We knew we lived in an area of fire danger, but we never knew it would be like that.”

Kat Tockey and the children — 9-month-old and 11-year-old sons and an 8-year-old daughter — were staying at the Neighborhood Church evacuation center in Chico. Pets weren’t allowed, so Nate Tockey said he would sleep in the car with their rottweiler, Tig, and cat, Kitsy.

Kendra Luck evacuated with her father and stepmother a few hours after the fire started. Her stepmother spotted flames shooting up a hillside outside of town around 8 a.m., and the three of them started packing.

An hour later, the smoke was so dense that they turned lights on in the house. The sky was an eerie — but familiar — red glow. Her father and stepmother have lived in the same house in Paradise for 16 years, and this was their third fire evacuation.

“They’re getting used to this,” said Luck, a former Chronicle photographer. “Everything was glowing that fire red. That was enough for them, so we just packed up and left.”

Hundreds of people were unaccounted for Thursday evening after the mad rush to evacuate. Especially worrisome were reports of older people — including some with dementia or mobility problems — who had not checked in with friends or relatives.

A 96-year-old woman who slipped into a stranger’s car to flee from her retirement home as it was engulfed early Thursday was among the missing. Marcia Hamilton, who had been living at Feather Canyon Retirement Community for nine years, was evacuated from the senior home around 9:30 a.m., just as walls of fire closed in.

#CampFire On Skyway in Paradise CA. Two spot fires on skyway as of 20 mins ago #CalFire pic.twitter.com/6HbjUBYbEP

She joined dozens of other residents outside the main entrance waiting for rides out of town, but firefighters, staffers and others were scrambling to find transportation, said Hamilton’s daughter, Lynn Hamilton. Her mother was put in a car with strangers who said they would take her to an evacuation center. But Lynn Hamilton never heard whether they arrived.

She was worried in part because her mother left without medication required for her heart condition and cholesterol, and without her walker or a cell phone.

#campfire from Fair street in Chico. My little heart is breaking for the Ridge. Stay safe Paradise and surrounding communities pic.twitter.com/wCXS7gE9dD

Chronicle staff writers Kimberly Veklerov, Megan Cassidy and Lauren Hernandez contributed to this report.

Kurtis Alexander, Lizzie Johnson, Gwendolyn Wu and Erin Allday are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: kalexander@sfchronicle.com, ljohnson@sfchronicle.com, gwendolyn.wu@sfchronicle.com, eallday@schronicle.com Twitter: @kurtisalexander, @lizziejohnsonnn, @gwendolynawu, @erinallday


Posted in World