Westworld set scorched in California wildfire; celebrities flee flames

 abc.net.au  11/9/2018 11:20:23 PM  2

Updated November 10, 2018 14:32:35

A fast-moving wildfire in Southern California has scorched a TV set recently used by the HBO series Westworld and forced numerous celebrities to join the thousands fleeing flames that have claimed homes and prompted the total evacuation of the celebrity enclave Malibu.

Key points:

  • The blaze pushed towards Malibu and the Pacific ocean, prompting evacuations
  • Kim Kardashian is among celebrities fleeing fire near Malibu
  • Nine people killed in a seperate fire in northern California

Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, Scott Baio, Rainn Wilson and Guillermo del Toro are among numerous celebrities forced to evacuate their homes, in some cases hurriedly trying to arrange transport for their horses.

Some, like del Toro and Caitlyn Jenner, do not know the fate of their homes, but the wind-driven wildfire has destroyed the home of Dr. Strange director Scott Derrickson and the historic Paramount Ranch where shows like HBO's Westworld and Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman were filmed.

The blaze started on Thursday night (local time) and by Friday had pushed toward Malibu and the Pacific Ocean, prompting evacuations in Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and other nearby areas.

Alyssa Milano said her home was "in jeopardy" amid her attempts to safely evacuate her five horses. The actress ultimately got the help she needed and tweeted that her horses were safe.

The celebrity website TMZ reported that Jenner's home was burned, but the Olympic gold medalist said in an Instagram video that she didn't know "whether the house made it or not." She confirmed she was safe.

Kardashian West posted video on Instagram of an area on fire with a message "Pray for Calabasas."

She said she landed back home, spent one hour packing and evacuated shortly afterward.

Gaga also took to social media letting her followers know she evacuated Friday morning (local time) as she shared a few videos focused on the smoke-filled skies.

The singer said she is "sending my prayers" to everyone impacted by the fire.

Derrickson said he is safe despite losing his home.

Cher has been concerned about her house in Malibu, an area where the actress-singer has lived for more than 45 years.

"I'm worried about my house, but there is nothing I can do," she tweeted.

"Friends houses have burned. I can't bear the thought of there being no Malibu I've had a house in Malibu since 1972."

'Western Town burned to the ground"

In addition to dozens of homes destroyed, Paramount Ranch's "Western Town," a landmark film location that included a jail, hotel and saloon, had burned to the ground.

The park service said the ranch served as locations for productions ranging from 1938's The Adventures of Marco Polo to television show Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, and the more recent shows The Mentalist and Weeds.

It was acquired by the National Park Service in 1980 but has continued to function as a filming location, serving as a location for the first two seasons of the sci-fi series "Westworld." HBO said it did not know the extent of the damage and expressed concern for "all those affected by these horrible fires."

When not in use for filming, visitors could stroll through Western Town while hiking or riding through on horseback.

Actor James Woods asked nearly 2 million of his Twitter followers to use the hashtag #CampFireJamesWoods to help share names of those who are missing in a separate wildfire in Northern California that has claimed nine lives.

He also tweeted resources for horse owners to have their animals evacuated from the Southern California blaze, and called Milano's report that her family and horses had been evacuated "good news."

Woods was not among those displaced — he tweeted that he was on the East Coast.

'State's most destructive fire'

In northern California, a fierce wildfire incinerated most of a town of about 30,000 people, with flames that moved so fast there was nothing firefighters could do.

Nine people died in what quickly grew in to the state's most destructive fire in at least a century.

Only a day after it began, the fire near the town of Paradise had almost quadrupled in size to nearly 285 square kilometres.

Officials said five people whose bodies were discovered in their cars could not immediately be identified. They did not say how the other four people died.

While the cause of the fire was not known, Pacific Gas & Electric Company told state regulators it experienced an outage on an electrical transmission line near Paradise about 15 minutes before the blaze broke out.

The company said it later noticed damage to a transmission tower near the town.

"There was really no firefight involved," Captain Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said, explaining crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people evacuate.

"These firefighters were in the rescue mode all day yesterday."

The entire town was ordered evacuated, setting off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got struck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot.

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

The dead were found in the same part of Paradise, the Butte County Sheriff's Office said.

Gas tanks 'going off like bombs'

In rural areas of Northern California, many homes have gas tanks that were exploding amid the flames.

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

Captain McLean estimated the lost buildings numbered in the thousands in Paradise, about 290km north-east of San Francisco.

"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It's that kind of devastation," he said.

With fires burning in both Northern and Southern California, the director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services put the number of people forced from their homes at 157,000.

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

The wind-driven flames also spread to the west and reached the edge of Chico, a city of 90,000 people.

Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, where evacuation orders remained in place on Friday, California Fire Captain Bill Murphy said.

The winds calmed down in the valley, but they were still shifting and erratic, with speeds of up to 72 kilometres per hour along ridge tops, he said.

Panicked drivers crash, blocking escape route

With ash falling and the sky darkening to a menacing shade of black, evacuees from Paradise sat in stunned silence on Friday outside a Chico church where they took refuge the night before.

They all had harrowing tales of a slow-motion escape from a fire so close they could feel the heat inside their vehicles as they sat stuck in a terrifying traffic jam.

When the order came to evacuate, it was like the entire town of 27,000 residents decided to leave at once, they 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.

A nurse phoned Rita Miller at about 7:00am on Thursday, telling her she had to get her disabled mother, who lives a few blocks away, and flee Paradise immediately.

Ms Miller jumped in her boyfriend's rickety sports utility vehicle, which was low on fuel and had a bad transmission.

She instantly found herself stuck in gridlock.

"I was frantic," she said.

After an hour of no movement, she abandoned the truck and decided to try her luck on foot.

A stranger in the traffic jam rolled down her window and asked Ms Miller if she needed help.

After scoffing at the notion of getting back in a stopped car, she reconsidered, thinking: "I'm really scared, this is terrifying, I can't breathe, I can't see and maybe I should humble myself and get in this woman's car."

The stranger ended up helping Ms Miller pack up her mother and she took them to safety in Chico, which took three hours to travel the 22km from Paradise.

AP/Reuters

Topics: fires, disasters-and-accidents, bushfire, united-states

First posted November 10, 2018 10:20:23

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