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Wildfire Destroys Most Of Butte County Town Of Paradise

Noah Berger / AP Photo

A home burns as the Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Noah Berger / AP Photo

Updated 8:50 p.m.

Note: This story is no longer being updated. Find the most up-to-date information on evacuations and shelters here.

For the latest information on this fire, including evacuation order and shelter information, visit the Butte County Sheriff's Twitter page or call the Cal Fire public information line at 530-538-7826. More resources can be found here.

Tens of thousands of people fled a fast-moving wildfire Thursday in Butte County, 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.

"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it's that kind of devastation," said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean late Thursday. "The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out."

McLean estimated that a couple of thousand structures were destroyed in the town of 27,000 residents about 90 miles north of Sacramento. The extent of the injuries and specific damage count was not immediately known as officials could not access the dangerous area.

Butte County Cal Fire Chief Darren Read said at a press conference Thursday that two firefighters and multiple civilians were injured. Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in the area.

Evacuation information can be found here.

As she fled, Gina Oviedo described a devastating scene in which flames engulfed homes, sparked explosions and toppled utility poles.

"Things started exploding," Oviedo said. "People started getting out of their vehicles and running."

An Associated Press photographer saw dozens businesses and homes leveled or in flames, including a liquor store and gas station.

"It's a very dangerous and very serious situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told The Associated Press. "I'm driving through fire as we speak. We're doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas."

He confirmed reports that evacuees had to abandon their vehicles as they fled the scene.

"We're getting them on other vehicles with room. We're working very hard to get people out. The message I want to get out is if you can evacuate, you need to evacuate," Honea said.

Evacuation information:

Click here for the full map of evacuation zones.

Evacuation orders have been issued for the following areas as of 8 p.m.:

The following evacuation warnings were in place as of 8 p.m.:

  • Humbug, Lovelock and North Coutelenc zones
  • The area of Skyway from Lower Paradise down the Skyway to the Chico City limits. 
  • Highway 32 from Nopel north to the County line 
  • The area West of 99 from 149 north to Chico City Limits, west to the Midway

Friday morning the Chico Fire Department released this map of evacuation zones for the city of Chico:

The Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise evacuated all its patients and staff, given its close proximity to the fire, and transported them safely to hospitals in neighboring towns, said Jill Kinney, an Adventist Health spokeswoman. She said she did not know the exact number of people evacuated.

Mark Belden with American Medical Response for Shasta County was part of the crew tasked with evacuating the hospital.

"When we got down here we weren't able to make access because the road was clogged with fire," he said.

The Chico Unified School District said on Facebook that all Butte County schools would be closed Friday due to the fire. Chico State, however, said on Twitter that they expected classes to resume Friday. 

Here are the current evacuation centers:

  • Oroville Nazarene Church, 2238 Monte Vista Ave., Oroville, CA 95966
  • Chico Elks Lodge, 1705 Manzanita Ave., Chico 95926
  • Neighborhood Church, 2801 Notre Dame Blvd., Chico, CA 95928 (FULL)
  • Butte County Fairgrounds, 199 E Hazel St., Gridley, CA 95948
  • Yuba City Fairgrounds, 442 Franklin Ave., Yuba City
  • Small animals: Old County Hospital, 2279 Del Oro and Mono, Suite E, Oroville, CA
  • Large animals: Butte County Fairgrounds, 199 E Hazel St., Gridley, CA 95948

The Cal Fire information hotline is 530-538-7826An Emergency Volunteer Center is open at Caring Choices (1398 Ridgewood in Chico). People interested in volunteering can go there or call 530-899-3873.

More details:

 

Sheriff Honea says the agency is spread thin on resources but officials are "doing everything we can to get people out of the affected areas."

Rick Carhart, a Cal Fire spokesman, said the wildfire was reported at 6:30 a.m., affecting about 30,000 people in the towns of Paradise, Concow and other small communities.

"The blaze is being driven by fairly strong winds," Carhart said. "It's really dry and we have low humidity and unfortunately those are great conditions for a fire to spread."

Shari Bernacett said she and her husband tried to get people to leave the mobile home park they manage in Paradise and had minutes to evacuate as flames reached the east side of the town.

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, Bernacett said.

"My husband tried his best to get everybody out. The whole hill's on fire. God help us!" Bernacett said before breaking down crying.

She and her husband grabbed their dog, jumped in their pickup truck and drove through flames before getting to safety on Highway 99, she said.

Groups of fleeing residents gathered in a Kmart parking lot in Paradise, with their dogs and some with horses, waiting to be evacuated, said Shelley Freeman who spoke to a relative and friends in Paradise. The friend told Freeman that all the trees around the store were on fire, and there were explosions and thick dark smoke.

"I'm scared for them," said Freeman, who lives in Clements, California. "I'm just extremely concerned."

The Camp Fire rages through Paradise, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.Noah Berger / AP Photo

 

Officials were sending as many crews as they could gather, 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."

In Chico, west of the fire, resident Tina Greer said the care home where her disabled son lives with five other patients was evacuating. It takes time to pack the patients' medical equipment and medicine, she said. Her 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy, needs a wheelchair to get around and is fed through a tube.

"They need time to prepare," Greer said. "There's a lot to move."

Heavy ash was falling in Chico, she 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.

The cause of the fire has not been determined but Cal Fire is investigating, said spokesperson Lynne Tolmachoff.

“When this fire started this morning wind speeds were 35 to 40 mph gusts," Tolmachoff said. "Once it got going it picked up very rapidly and pushed very quickly down that canyon.”

Crews and firefighting aircraft are responding from all over Northern California. 

PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said about 34,000 customers in Butte and Plumas counties are without power due to the fire. 

How to get updates on the Camp Fire:

Here’s how you can get the latest updates on the Camp Fire from officials and media using social media on your smartphone or computer:

Monitor this Twitter list we’ve assembled of a variety of regional agencies, media organizations, and their staffs. Use caution when getting information from social media. Tweets and posts may not be accurate. (Have a suggested addition to this list? Tweet us at @capradionews)

You can also monitor the hashtag #CampFire across social media.

The main Twitter accounts that are sharing emergency updates can be found below:

@CALFIRE_ButteCo
@ButteSheriff
@CountyofButte

The Cal Fire information hotline is 530-538-7826.

North State Public Radio's Sarah Bohannon, Marc Albert and Andrew Baumgartner contributed to this report, along with the Associated Press and CapRadio's Ezra David Romero, Chris Hagan and Kacey Gardner.

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