Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California. Picture: Reuters/Eric Thayer
Firefighters battle flames overnight during a wildfire that burned dozens of homes in Thousand Oaks, California. Picture: Reuters/Eric Thayer

Thousands flee as three California blazes leave trails of destruction

By Stephen Lam Time of article published Nov 9, 2018

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Paradise, California - Three fast-moving wildfires burned in California on Friday morning, including one that spurred the evacuation of 75 000 homes near a city that was still reeling from a mass shooting.

Voluntary evacuations of 75 000 homes were called for because of the Woolsey Fire that affected parts of Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of a shooting massacre this week.

A former US Marine combat veteran opened fire in a bar packed with college students in the town on Wednesday night, killing 12 people and stunning a leafy community with a reputation for safety.

An evacuation site was at capacity at the Thousand Oaks Teen Centre, which had also served as a family assistance and reunification site following the shooting.

Several evacuation sites were issuing protective masks for citizens, Ventura County Emergency Services said.

The Woolsey blaze was also burning in parts of Los Angeles County, where mandatory evacuation orders were given Friday morning south of U.S. Highway 101, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

The fire had jumped Highway 101 in several places, including Calabasas and Agoura Hills, and was moving southwards toward coastal Malibu, Malibu Search and Rescue said in a post on Twitter. Parts of that major freeway were closed in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, fire officials said.

The fire ignited Thursday afternoon south of the city of Simi Valley, Ventura County officials said.

Also burning in Ventura County was the Hill Fire, which had torched 10 000 acres (4047 hectares) by Thursday night, fire officials said.

In Northern California, the Camp Fire advanced rapidly to the outskirts of the city of Chico early on Friday, forcing thousands to flee after it left the nearby town of Paradise in ruins, California fire officials said.

Evacuation notices were set for homes on the east side of Chico, a city of about 93 000 people about 90 miles (145 km) north of Sacramento.

The Chico Fire Department said: "Firefighters continue to actively engage the fire in order to protect life and property."

Flames from the unchecked, 20 000-acre (8 100-hectare) Camp Fire were being driven westward by 35-mile-per hour (56 km-per-hour) winds, fire officials said.

The blaze earlier ripped through Paradise, about 20 miles east of Chico.

"The town is devastated, everything is destroyed. There's nothing much left standing," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Maclean. "This fire moved so fast and grew so fast a lot of people got caught by it."

Maclean said an as-yet unspecified number of civilians and firefighters were injured, and that it could be days before authorities would know of any fatalities.

Paradise, located on a ridge, has limited escape routes. Traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock and residents abandoned vehicles and ran from the flames, carrying children and pets, officials said. One woman stuck in traffic went into labour, the Enterprise-Record newspaper reported.

"It’s very chaotic,” said Officer Ryan Lambert of the California Highway Patrol.

Rescuers used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out the way to reach Feather River Hospital and evacuate patients as flames engulfed the building, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter told reporters.

The hospital was totally destroyed, Mike Mangas, a spokesman for operator Dignity Health, told Action News Now.

The fire, which began early on Thursday, was the fiercest of several wind-driven blazes across California, during what has been one of the worst years for wildfires in the state.

In Ventura County, "Strong Santa Ana winds (are) expected to continue through this morning," the National Weather Service in Los Angeles said on Twitter on Friday. That helped double the size of the Woolsey Fire to 8 000 acres (3238 hectares), fire officials said.

Wind gusts of 50 to 70 mph (80 to 113 kph) were expected in the mountains of Ventura County and up to 50 mph in its valleys and coastal areas, the NWS said.

Travel was limited on U.S. Highway 101 in the county, state highway patrol troopers said.


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