Separate wildfires rip through California, thousands flee

Separate wildfires rip through California, thousands flee

Separate wildfires were ripping through northern and southern California Friday, forcing tens of thousands from their homes and prompting officials to declare a state of emergency.

The fast-moving Camp Fire advanced to the outskirts of the northern California city of Chico early on Friday after it left the nearby town of Paradise in ruins.

Fire officials issued evacuation notices for homes on the east side of Chico, a city of about 93,000 people about 145 kilometres north of Sacramento.

“Firefighters continue to actively engage the fire in order to protect life and property,” the Chico Fire Department said in a tweet.

Flames from the unchecked, 8,100-hectare Camp Fire, which began early Thursday, were being driven westward by 56 km/h winds, fire officials said. The fire earlier ripped through Paradise, about 30 kilometres east of Chico.

Reporter Laura Anthony, of the local ABC station KGO, shot video of a “firenado” in Paradise Thursday.  

“The town is devastated, everything is destroyed. There’s nothing much left standing,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesperson Scott McLean.

“This fire moved so fast and grew so fast a lot of people got caught by it.”

Residents raced to escape on roads that turned into tunnels of fire as thick smoke darkened the daytime sky on Thursday, wiping out what a Cal Fire official said was a couple of thousand structures.

“We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road,” said police officer Mark Bass, who lives in Paradise and works in 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.”

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.

Residents described fleeing their homes and then getting stuck on gridlocked roads as flames approached, sparking explosions and toppling utility poles.

“Things started exploding,” said resident Gina Oviedo. “People started getting out of their vehicles and running.”

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.”

Rescuers used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out the way to reach Feather River Hospital and evacuate patients as flames engulfed the building, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter told reporters.

McLean said an as yet unspecified number of civilians and firefighters had been injured, and that it could be days before authorities would know whether anyone had died.

Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the area and requested a federal emergency declaration, saying that high winds and dry brush presented ongoing danger.

2 uncontained fires in SoCal

Meanwhile, portions of Southern California remained under siege early Friday as two large fires threatened many Ventura County communities. 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 the evening.

Firefighters battle the Camp Fire as it tears through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday. Separate wildfires were ripping through the northern and southern parts of the state on Friday, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing their homes. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

The Woolsey Fire, which began overnight, covered more than 3,000 hectares Friday morning and was threatening 75,000 homes, the Ventura County Fire Department said on Twitter, adding there had been no reports of fatalities or severe injuries as yet. 

The nearby Hill Fire covered about 4,000 hectares, according to Cal Fire. 

Actor Rainn Wilson said that resident of Thousand Oaks, still reeling from a Wednesday night shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people at a bar before killing himself, were now having to flee their homes.

TV personality Adrienne Janic said on Twitter that firefighters were using her home as a command centre.

Actor James Woods stayed up all night posting tweets to help families find their missing loved ones under the hashtag #CampFireJamesWoods.

The two fires burning just northwest of Los Angeles were zero per cent contained, and mandatory evacuations were in place for L.A. County and Ventura County.

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