Thursday 15 November 2018

Five killed in cars as California wildfires force 150,000 to evacuate

Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Firefighters work to keep flames from spreading through the Shadowbrook apartment (Noah Berger/AP)
Firefighters work to keep flames from spreading through the Shadowbrook apartment (Noah Berger/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Five people have been found dead in their burned-out vehicles after a wildfire in northern California incinerated most of a town of about 30,000 people.

Only a day after it began, the blaze near the town of Paradise had grown to nearly 110 square miles and was burning completely out of control.

“There was really no firefight involved,” Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection 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 yesterday.”

With fires also burning in southern California, state officials put the total number of people forced from their homes at 157,000.

Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

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.

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

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A firefighter inspects burned-out cars to make sure they are no bodies (John Locher/AP)

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.

Mr McLean estimated that the lost buildings numbered in the thousands in Paradise, about 180 miles north east of San Francisco.

“Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It’s that kind of devastation,” he said.

The massive blaze 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 Chico, a city of 90,000 people. Firefighters were able to stop the fire at the edge of the city, Cal Fire Captain Bill Murphy said.

There were no signs of life on Friday on the road to Paradise except for the occasional bird. A thick, yellow haze from the fire hung in the air and gave the appearance of twilight in the middle of the day.

Strong winds had blown the blackened needles on some evergreens straight to one side. A scorched car with its doors open sat on the hard shoulder.

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Large plumes of smoke from a fast-moving wildfire are seen in the background as volunteers care for evacuated horses (Richard Vogel/AP)

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.

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Smoke from wildfires obscures the San Francisco skyline (Eric Risberg/AP)

Authorities issued an unhealthy air quality alert for parts of the San Francisco Bay Area as smoke from the wildfire drifted south.

The air in San Francisco was hazy and the smell of smoke overwhelming, prompting officials to declare air quality unhealthy.

They advised older people and children to move physical activities indoors. All people were encouraged to limit their outdoor activities.

Press Association

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