Tens of thousands flee fast-moving Northern California fire

Tens of thousands flee fast-moving Northern California fire

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.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. John Gaddie said crews were still focused Thursday on helping people get out of the town of Paradise. The fire has consumed more than 26 square miles (69 square kilometers) and forced residents of the town to evacuate. The town of about 27,000 people is 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.

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: Wildfire evacuee: Our town is flattened

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Video: RAW: Aerial Footage Of Camp Fire Burning In Butte County

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Update: Camp Fire explodes to 20000 acres, mandatory evacuations in place

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

Adventist Health Feather River said in a post on Twitter Thursday that is transported to surrounding area hospitals. Hospital officials have not returned calls from The Associated Press about the evacuation.

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

The fire has consumed more than 26 square miles (69 square kilometers) and forced residents of the town 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.

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.

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

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

Then the fire turned east. It reached Highway 99 near Neal Road by 7:30 p.m. and was approaching Highway 32 near upper Bidwell Park by 9 p.m. Evacuation orders were issued from Bruce Road east, from East 20th Street to Highway 32 along the east side of Chico, and in the Canyon Oaks subdivision farther north. Homes were reported burning on the lower Skyway near Oak Ridge Drive and Spanish Garden Drive.

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

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.

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

Camp Fire explodes to half the size of SF in a day, growing at rate of 10 Costco stores per minute

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.

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.).

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

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

Wayne and Juanita McLish, 20-year residents of Fawndale Lane, said they fought for two hours to save their home until the water pressure ran out, then made it to Safeway. Wayne McLish’s face was covered in soot. The former math teacher looked stunned when he was told it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, not the morning.

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.

Tens of thousands had already been evacuated, perhaps as many as 50,000 people, according to the sheriff. The Sheriff’s Office also has received hundreds of calls requesting deputies to perform welfare checks on unaccounted people in the fire zone. Officials expected to work through the night responding to those calls.

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.

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.

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

According to PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno, 32,000 customers were 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.

Cars escape the Camp Fire as they drive south on Pentz Road in Paradise, 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.

(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 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.

(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

“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.”

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.

The fire in Southern California was being whipped up Thursday evening by powerful winds that pushed it through canyons and to the edge of Camarillo Springs and Cal State Channel Islands, both of which were evacuated, The Los Angeles Times reported. The blaze broke out in the Hill Canyon area and in just 12 minutes jumped the 101 Freeway. By Thursday evening, it had scorched up to 7,000 acres and sent residents of more than 1,200 homes fleeing.

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 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.

PARADISE, Calif. (AP) — A fast-moving wildfire that ravaged a Northern California town Thursday sent residents racing to escape on roads that turned into tunnels of fire as thick smoke darkened the daytime sky, wiping out what a Cal Fire official said was a couple of thousand structures.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

“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.”

“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.

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.

“Its a very dangerous and very serious situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “Were working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is: If you can evacuate, you need to evacuate.” Several evacuation centers were set up in nearby towns.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

According to Jenni Glass, Communications Manager at Adventist Health which is the parent company of Feather River Hospital in Paradise, 60 patients were evacuated from Feather River Hospital.

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.

“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.”

The Chico Fire Department tweeted late Thursday night that they are working to save homes along Stilson Canyon Road.

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.

What has been dubbed Camp Fire began early Thursday near the town of Pulga and moved west, consuming 8,000 acres by 1 pm, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. By Thursday afternoon, the fire was growing at the rate of about one football field every three seconds, assisted by dry conditions and wind gusts of up to 65 mph.

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.

Incredible #GOES16 satellite imagery of extremely dangerous, fast-moving wildfire in wildland-urban interface currently burning through #Paradise, California at an estimated 80 acres *per minute.* Strong, dry east winds. Really bad feeling about this one. #CampFire#CAwx#CAfirepic.twitter.com/l1667JOmDc

Camp Fire chars 20,000 acres in NorCal

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.

Over 30,000 residents of Paradise, Butte Creek, and Magalia were ordered to evacuate, as were local hospitals, schools, and a retirement home. The fire was zero percent contained as of 1pm Thursday afternoon, according to Cal Fire, and is visible from satellites. 

Paradise, Calif., Destroyed By Wildfire, Authorities Say

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.

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

Camp Fire Smoke Fills North Bay Skies: PHOTOS

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.

#CampFire this is on pentz rd in Paradise. Pray for people to get out safe.🙏🙏🙏 pic.twitter.com/Qe7MwHiH8e

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.

“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.

Cal Fire PIO: Numerous structures destroyed, several civilians injured in Camp Fire

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.

Smoke From Camp Fire Visible In East Bay

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!”

North California Wildfire: Deaths Reported, 2 Firefighters Injured

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.”

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.

Large cloud of smoke drifts over Ukiah area

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.

Tens of thousands flee fast-moving Camp Fire, located an hour north of Oroville

#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.

20,000-acre Camp Fire reaches outskirts of Chico; burning near Skyway

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.

Wind-driven brush fire erupts near site of Thousand Oaks bar shooting

Kurtis Alexander, Lizzie Johnson, Gwendolyn Wu and Erin Allday are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @kurtisalexander, @lizziejohnsonnn, @gwendolynawu, @erinallday


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