Paradise on Fire
PARADISE, CALIFORNIA – November 9, 2018
A fast-moving wildfire fueled by strong winds raced across communities in the Sierra foothills in Northern California on Thursday, devastating the city of Paradise and sending thousands of residents fleeing for their lives in a chaotic mass evacuation, authorities said.
150-foot flames ripped through residential areas and flames leapt from Paradise hospitals and schools, about 85 miles north of Sacramento.
"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed — it's that kind of devastation," Capt. Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, told The Associated Press on Thursday night.
At a news conference, Chief Darren Read, commander of Cal Fire's Butte County Unit, described "significant" losses of structures and multiple injuries, including injuries to two firefighters.
According to the California authorities, the fire destroyed thousands of buildings in Paradise. Because of the rising wind, the fire quickly engulfed a large area, creating a serious threat to people's lives.
Residents in Pulga and Paradise were told to evacuate on Thursday morning.
With the town located on a ridge and with limited escape routes, traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock. Residents abandoned vehicles and ran from the flames carrying children and pets, officials said.
“It’s very chaotic. It’s a very bad fire,” Officer Ryan Lambert of the California Highway Patrol said of the evacuation.
The rescuers had to make every effort to evacuate the staff and patients of the Adventist Health Feather River Hospital as soon as possible. To do this, the specialists had to use a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out of the way to contain the flames, which by that time had already covered part of the roof of the medical institution.
The authorities cannot yet say whether there are victims among the local population. However, unofficial sources claim that the fire has already taken the lives of several people. The dense smoke and raging fire do not allow for an assessment of the situation.
Additionally, there is a real threat to a larger city. The town of Chico, population 93,000, could be next in the path of the wildfire, as flames were driven westward by 35-mile-per hour winds.
It is difficult to predict further developments at least until the wind dies down. Firefighting aircraft were unable to operate due to high winds, which were forecast to strengthen on Friday morning.
“The problem is the winds that pushed the fire so much, so fast,” said McLean, adding that it could be days before authorities knew the full extent of fatalities and destruction.
Ventura County emergency officials ordered mandatory evacuations for the communities of Camarillo Springs and Dos Vientes and parts of Bell Canyon — about 8,000 people — along with California State University-Channel Islands and its 7,500 students, faculty and staff. The commander of Point Mugu, part of Naval Base Ventura County, separately declared a mandatory evacuation.