California Wildfires Burn Out of Control: Camp Fire Destroys Hundreds of Structures in Paradise; Several Fires Burn in Ventura County

Sean Breslin
Published: November 9, 2018

Fast-moving wildfires prompted evacuations in both Northern and Southern California on Thursday, sending residents fleeing for their lives on short notice.

The largest inferno, sparked Thursday morning in Northern California, prompted numerous evacuations, including several entire towns. The Butte County Sheriff's Office told the Associated Press that a mandatory evacuation order was issued for the entire town of Paradise, which is home to about 27,000 people and is north of Sacramento.

During a Thursday news conference, Butte County Cal Fire Chief Darren Read said two firefighters and several civilians were injured by the so-called Camp Fire. He also said several hundred buildings, possibly as many as 1,000 or more, were destroyed in Paradise, though they won't have a more exact number until they survey the damage.

"The whole town’s on fire," Paradise councilman Scott Lotter, who evacuated with his family, told the Sacramento Bee earlier Thursday. "It’s pretty grim."

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Officials confirmed to the AP that some residents who attempted to escape the fire in their vehicles were then forced to flee on foot – some holding pets and even babies in their grasp – as the flames drew closer. With few options out of Paradise, roads quickly became gridlocked, and abandoned cars left in the middle of the road only made problems worse.

"It is pure chaos up here," CHP public information officer Ryan Lambert told the Los Angeles Times.

Fueled by dry, windy conditions, the Camp Fire quickly spread to more than 31 square miles within about 12 hours and forced the closure of several roads, according to Cal Fire. The fire is 0 percent contained and it's not yet known what sparked it.

"Right now, Mother Nature is in charge," Cal Fire spokesman Bryce Bennett told the Sacramento Bee.

Other towns being evacuated include Centerville and Butte Creek, northwest of Paradise. Evacuations were also ordered in the nearby hamlets of Pulga and Concow.

Structures have been destroyed by the inferno, Cal Fire public information officer Rick Carhart told the San Jose Mercury News, but authorities have not said how many. Paradise police chief Eric Reinbold told the AP that his home is located in the middle of the city, and he doesn't know if his property survived.

"It’s bad," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told the Chico Enterprise-Record. "We’re trying to get as many people out as quickly as possible and save as many lives as we can."

In Concow, some residents, like Colton Percifield, were forced to drive through the flames and thick smoke just to survive.

"The hardest part was there was no visibility ... it was pitch black," he told The Weather Channel in a phone interview Thursday night. He also said many of the homes in his neighborhood were destroyed by the fire, but he was able to safely escape.

Feather River Hospital, a retirement home and Ponderosa Elementary School in Paradise were evacuated, the Enterprise-Record also said, and Butte College was closed.

Patients in the Feather River Hospital were rescued Thursday afternoon as the roof of the emergency room went ablaze. 

The rapid growth of the fire took many residents by surprise. Shary Bernacett said she and her husband "knocked on doors, yelled and screamed" to alert as many of the residents of the mobile home park they manage in Paradise just minutes before the fire arrived, she told the AP.

"My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill's on fire. God help us!" Bernacett, in tears, told the AP.

The Bernacetts managed to escape the fire with their dog but had to drive through 12-foot-high flames before reaching safety on Highway 99.

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At least 24,000 homes and businesses, or about half of all customers, are without power in Butte County, according to PowerOutage.us. Those who have safely fled the wildfire were asked to register on the American Red Cross's Safe and Well page to let friends and family know they successfully evacuated.

Acting governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Butte County, which will make more resources available for emergency responders.

Much of the Golden State had been warned about extreme fire danger because of the return of Santa Ana winds, but in Butte County, months of dry weather combined with the windy conditions created a recipe for disaster.

"Basically, we haven't had rain since last May or before that," Read told the AP. "Everything is a very receptive fuel bed. It's a rapid rate of spread."

Southern California Fires Force Evacuations

Thursday afternoon, a pair of brush fires were sparked in Ventura County, threatening homes and businesses in the Newbury Park area. The largest, named the Hill Fire, exploded in size and burned at least 12.5 square miles in the first two hours, Cal Fire said.

The blaze came down the hills and jumped the 101 Freeway, prompting officials to issue mandatory evacuations for the Cal State University Channel Islands campus. Before that, evacuations were ordered for the Camarillo Springs area after the fire was sparked at about 2 p.m. local time, according to the L.A. Times.

Local news helicopters broadcast visuals of structures being burned by the fire late Thursday afternoon.

The fire originated Thursday afternoon near the Santa Rosa Valley, about 10 miles northwest of Thousand Oaks. The other fire burning in Ventura County, named the Woolsey Fire, was sparked at Woolsey Canyon and was moving in the direction of Oak Park, fire officials said. It has burned at least 300 acres, Cal Fire said.


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