‘Destroyed’: In Paradise, California, entire community of 27,000 was ordered to evacuate
PARADISE, Calif. — Nearly 30,000 people were forced to evacuate on Thursday when a wildfire roared through this California town, located about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.
In less than 24 hours, the Camp Fire torched Paradise homes, — businesses, supermarkets, restaurants and a retirement home — was left “pretty much…destroyed,” California Fire Capt. Scott McLean said.
By Friday morning, the area remained under siege, with reports that two large fires had burned 15,000 acres and were threatening multiple communities, with 75,000 homes under evacuation orders.
The National Weather Service has issued red-flag warnings for fire dangers in many areas of the state, cautioning that the low humidity and strong winds fueling the blaze could continue through the evening.
The scale of property damage is not yet known, and emergency responders say they have unconfirmed reports of deaths. County Cal Fire Chief Darren Read said at a news conference that at least two firefighters and multiple residents were injured.
“It’s a very dangerous and very serious situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. “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.”
Several evacuation centers were set up in nearby towns, including at the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley, Church of the Nazarene in Oroville and Neighborhood Church in Chico. Neighborhood Church filled to capacity Thursday afternoon.
As the fire raged, witnesses described frantic efforts to escape from a fast-moving, all-consuming blaze.
“We were surrounded by fire, we were driving through fire on each side of the road,” said police officer Mark Bass, a Chico police officer who lives in Paradise. “It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us.”
Brynn Chatfield was one of the residents forced to evacuate. After fleeing Paradise with her husband, she posted a harrowing video on Facebook, detailing their escape.
“We were driving south in the northbound lane on Skyway toward Chico,” she told the Record Searchlight on Thursday afternoon. “I saw a lot of brave people trying to direct traffic and do what they could to help others,” Chatfield said.
She said the wind-driven fire was spreading so fast that emergency personnel were hustling to get people out of the chaotic scene. Emergency personnel couldn’t tell where the fire was going “because it was everywhere,” she said.
Sherri Pritchard, who also evacuated, said she only had time to grab a few pictures before fleeing with her family and dogs. They didn’t even have time to grab clothes.
“It was crazy, because when we were sitting in traffic people were panicking,” she said. “It was chaos. I couldn’t believe what people were doing.”
Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, who is acting as governor because Gov. Jerry Brown was out of state, declared a state of emergency in Butte County. Schools in all of Butte County are canceled Friday, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.
Honea said hundreds of calls have come in were reporting people trapped or requesting welfare checks, but that law enforcement is prioritizing people’s safety over requests to simply check on someone or see whether they got out.
People searching for information also took to social media, attracting the attention of actor James Woods, who started the hashtag #CampFireJamesWoods and used his massive Twitter following to connect those seeking information about their loved ones to anyone who might have it.
Ron Angle, a long-time former volunteer firefighter, said he hasn’t seen a fire in the area as severe as the Camp Fire in his nearly 40 years there and noted how extreme the wind was.
“I suspect the residential and commercial structure loss will be catastrophic,” he said.
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