California wildfires force hundreds of thousands to evacuate, claim lives

Evacuations ordered in Northern California as fast-moving wildfire spreads

Residents of Paradise, California, are talking about narrow escapes from their burning homes as a wildfire rapidly approached. "My hometown of Paradise is on fire". A member of the town, Brynn Parrott Chatfield, shared a video of the fire while driving in a vehicle on Facebook.

California fire captain Scott McLean said earlier that "pretty much the entire community of Paradise is destroyed", adding that the fire had grown to nearly 110 square miles - four times its original size.

Cal Fire has used aircraft minimally because high winds diminish their effectiveness in dropping retardant, Pimlott explained during Friday morning's press conference.

Not a single resident of Paradise - population 27,000 - could be seen anywhere in town Friday, the day after majority fled the burning Northern California community that may be lost forever.

In Los Angeles, another, smaller fire in Griffith Park forced the Los Angeles Zoo to evacuate a number of show birds and some small primates on Friday as flames came within less than 2 miles (3 km) of the facility, zoo officials said in a statement.

Residents described fleeing their homes and getting stuck in traffic jams as the flames sparked explosions and toppled utility poles.

"It is what we feared for a long time", Honea said, noting there was no time to knock on residents' doors one-by-one. Thousands evacuated, many abandoned their vehicles and fleeing on foot as flames surrounded major roadways in the area. "We were driving through fire on each side of the road", police officer Mark Bass said. Some were forced back by clogged roads, but all of them eventually made it out, some in dramatic fashion.


"It's a very unsafe and very serious situation", Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said.

The massive blaze spread north Friday, prompting officials to order the evacuation of Stirling City and Inskip, two communities north of Paradise along the Sierra Nevada foothills.

In Butte County, about 80 miles north of Sacramento, has seen strong winds hamper efforts by aircraft to drop retardant on the fast-moving fire that largely destroyed Paradise and moved into the eastern side of Chico this morning, a city with a population of around 90,000.

Officials were sending as many firefighters as they could, Cal Fire spokesperson Rick Carhart said.

Smoke from the fire drifted in a huge plume and set off smoke alarms as far away as San Francisco, almost 150 miles away.

Also burning in Ventura County was the Hill Fire, which grew to 10,000 acres by Thursday night, officials said.

Blome drove through the town with a man named Fred, crying, pointing out Sam's Liquor, Safeway, McDonald's, the church, the tire shop, the vehicle wash, apartments, her doctor's office, the bowling alley, a hotel, the veterinarian - all of which had gone up in flames. It was also threatening parts of nearby Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of the shooting massacre earlier this week.

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