A fast-moving wildfire roared through a Northern California town on Thursday, with deaths reported as it burned a hospital, hundreds of homes and sent tens of thousands of people fleeing flames in cars and on foot, authorities said. Fire officials said it could take days to figure out how many people died.
There was little time for the 27,000 people who live in Paradise to evacuate.
Some of the first responders that rushed to the scene of the second mass shooting in less than two weeks in the United States were also helping out with fire-related duties.
A fast-moving wildfire is rapidly spreading through northeastern California, growing to over 16,000 acres in under 12 hours and leading acting Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.
Firefighters working around the clock and favorable weather conditions kept the city of Chico safe from the Camp Fire through the night, thought it drew close enough Thursday evening for evacuation orders to be issued near the city of 90,000, and a warning to be given inside its borders.
A set of brushfires lashed Ventura County, prompting mandatory evacuations across Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
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On social media, many have been sharing images of highways and roads flanked by fire or covered in heavy smoke and asking for help to evacuate friends and family. "God help us!" she said before breaking down crying.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea called it a "very risky and serious situation", AP reports, and noted that some residents have been forced to abandon their vehicles to escape the conflagration.
The wildfire was reported around daybreak. Officials have put most of Northern California is under a Red Flag Warning, which means "extreme fire behaviour" can occur within 24 hours. By nightfall, it had consumed more than 28 square miles and firefighters had no containment, McLean said. "We tried to get all the nondigital things that we could - you know, stuff that couldn't be replaced", Peete said. Dramatic footage shows flames closing in around the highways out of town and thick smoke hanging in the sky, obscuring the horizon. The fire destroyed about 1,000 structures in Paradise, including a church and some buildings at a local hospital, according to Cal Fire and interviews with residents.
Butte County supervisor Doug Teeter said authorities used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out the way to reach Feather River Hospital and evacuate patients as flames engulfed its old wing and the roof of the emergency department. "There's nothing much left standing", said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Maclean. "There are dozens of strike teams that we're bringing in from all parts of the state".
Four of the hospital's employees were briefly trapped in the basement and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers, Kinney said.
The Camp Fire has burned more than 5,000 acres and is still very active as it is wind driven.