9 killed in destructive Butte County wildfire

 kcra.com  11/10/2018 7:54:00 AM  3
PARADISE, Calif. (KCRA) —

In less than 48 hours, a wildfire burning in Butte County became the most destructive in California history.

Cal Fire said 6,713 structures have been destroyed, 6,453 homes and 260 commercial buildings, as of 6 p.m. Friday.

The wildfire topped the Tubbs Fire, which destroyed 5,636 structures in Sonoma County in October 2017.

The fire, named the Camp Fire, has also claimed nine lives, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said.

The wildfire ignited around 6:30 a.m. Thursday in the Camp Creek Road area near Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon. The fire had charred 90,000 acres and was 5 percent contained by Friday evening.

About 52,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes, Cal Fire said, and 1,385 are in evacuation shelters. About 15,000 structures are threatened by the blaze.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

PG&E said in a report Friday that a transmission line in Butte County experienced an outage minutes before the Camp Fire erupted.

DEATHS AND INJURIES

Nine people have died in the Camp Fire, the sheriff's office said.

Four people were found inside of a burned vehicle, one person was found outside of that vehicle, three people were found outside of homes and one person was found inside of a home.

Their identities have not been released.

At least seven people have been injured so far, including three firefighters, officials said.

CHP said it has aircraft working with Enloe Medical Center to treat patients.

BATTLING THE BLAZE

Windy conditions and low humidity caused the flames to spread quickly when the fire ignited, officials said.

"There was really no firefight involved," Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean said, explaining that crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive. "These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day (Thursday)."

When Paradise was evacuated, the order set off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got stuck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot. It was like the entire town of 27,000 residents decided to leave at once, evacuees said. Fire surrounded the evacuation route, and drivers panicked. Some crashed and others left their vehicles by the roadside.

"It was just a wall of fire on each side of us, and we could hardly see the road in front of us," police officer Mark Bass said.

People reported seeing much of the community go up in flames, including homes, supermarkets, businesses, restaurants, schools and a retirement center.

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

Rural areas fared little better. Many homes have propane tanks that were exploding amid the flames.

"They were going off like bombs," said Karen Auday, who escaped to a nearby town.

The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached Chico, a city of 90,000 people. Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Cpt. Bill Murphy said.

"The fire area is still under the influence of low relative humidity's, dry fuel moistures," Cal Fire said in a statement. "Moderate to extreme fire behavior was observed over the fire area including spotting, wind and fuel driven runs. The fire will continue to burn to the northwest impacting the communities of Magalia and Paradise Lake."

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.

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

"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."

More than 3,200 fire personnel are fighting the blaze, including 440 engines, 18 water tenders, 23 helicopters, 67 hand crews and 67 dozers.

Acting California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency for the area Thursday.

President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Friday.

EVACUATIONS

By Friday evening, the sheriff's office lifted evacuation orders for Oro Chico Highway from Duham Dayton north to Estates Drive and an evacuation warning for residents living west of Highway 99 from Highway 149, north to Chico city limits and west to Midway.

Evacuation orders are in place for the following areas:

  • Towns of Paradise, Magalia, Concow, Pulga, Yankee Hill
  • Areas of Butte Creek Canyon and Butte Valley
  • Powellton zone
  • Lovelock zone
  • Humbug zone
  • Stirling zone
  • North coutelenc zone
  • North fir haven zone
  • Nimshew zone
  • Carnegie/colter zone
  • South firhaven zone
  • South coutelenc zone
  • North pines zone
  • Butte Creek Road
  • Centerville Road
  • Skyway from lower paradise to the Chico city limits
  • Morgan Ridge Road
  • Highway 70 from Pulga to West Branch
  • Feather River Bridge
  • All of Clark Road and all of Pentz Road, south to Highway 70, everything west to Highway 99 and south to Highway 149 including all of South pines zone, Old Magalia zone, Lower pentz zone, Morgan ridge zone, Lower Clark zone, Highway 32 at Nopel south all the way to Chico city limits
  • Shippee Road from Highway 149 to Highway 99

Click here for a PDF map of the evacuation zones

Evacuation warnings are in place for:

  • Highway 162 to Highway 99 to Highway 149 to 70 – Except Shippee Road from Highway 149 to Highway 99
  • Highway 99 east to Highway 70 from Highway 162 north to highway 149
  • Nopel Road at Highway 32, north to the county line

The wildfire is impacting schools in the county.

The Butte County Office of Education said all public schools in the county will be closed through Friday, Nov. 23.

Chico State University said classes are suspended until Monday, Nov. 26. Campus operations will be closed through Friday, Nov. 16.

EVACUATION SHELTERS

The following shelters are available for Camp Fire evacuees:

  • Chester Memorial Hall (22 Gay Street, Chester)
  • Yuba-Sutter Fairground (442 Franklin Ave, Yuba City, CA 95991)

The following shelters are full:

  • Butte County Fairgrounds (199 E Hazel St, Gridley, CA 95948)
  • Glenn County Fairgrounds (221 E Yolo St, Orland, CA 95963)
  • Chico Elks Club (1705 Manzanita, Chico)
  • Oroville Nazarene Church (2238 Monte Vista Ave, Oroville, CA 95966)
  • Neighborhood Church (2801 Notre Dame Blvd, Chico, CA 95928)

| RELATED | How you can help Butte County wildfire victims

Butte County officials are asking evacuees to register with the Red Cross Safe & Well website. Concerned family and friends can also search for evacuees on the site through "Search Registrants."

Those looking for loved ones can also call the Butte County Sheriff's Office at 530-538-7322 to request a welfare check or file a missing person report.

The sheriff's office said it has received 35 reports of missing people.

ROAD CLOSURES

Highway 99 was reopened and and Highway 70 between Oroville and Chico reopened Friday afternoon, CHP said. However, officials are advising motorist to avoid highways because the wildfire is still active and unpredictable.

"Be advised that while the highways are open, all side streets and off ramps east of Highway 99 will be closed. There is no access to the City of Paradise," CHP said.

Below is a list of road closures due to the wildfire:

  • Butte County: Highway 191 at the Highway 70 junction
  • Butte County: Highway 32 at Yosemite Drive in Chico
  • Tehama County: Highway 32 from the Highway 36 junction near Chester to the Butte County line

Click here for more information on road closures.

CAL FIRE MAP

Can't see the map? CLICK HERE

Stay with KCRA for updates.

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