A wildfire is hopscotching across a northern California county at a rate of roughly 80 football fields per minute, forcing evacuations of schools and sending residents racing from their homes.
A state of emergency has been declared for Butte County due to the effects of the Camp Fire, which began around 6:30 a.m. Thurday and quickly spread across 5,000 acres, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. By 2:00 p.m. local time, it had grown to 18,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.
Fueled by winds, it jumped ridges from Pulga to Concow and down into Paradise, a town of 26,000 people about 85 miles north of Sacramento. The glow of the flames cast the morning horizon in an orange pallor.
Jillian Smalley escaped her neighborhood in Paradise with moments to spare as flames consumed everything in sight.
Cinders crawled along the ground and up trees as she fled with her mother and grandmother. The smoke was so thick, she said, it was like she was driving at night. En route to her sister’s house in Chico, she told CNN she didn’t have high hopes that her home survived.
“It’s probably gone already. It can’t be there anymore.”
Morgan Mason said her father told her that he could hear propane tanks blowing up all over Paradise this morning. “This does not look good at all,” Mason said on Twitter. “Please keep Paradise and all the first responders in your prayers.”
The fire forced the evacuation of patients from Paradise’s main hospital to hospitals in Oroville and Chico. About 3,300 students and staff members from Paradise’s 11 schools were evacuated in buses and employees’ cars to a center in Chico, Butte County Schools Superintendent Tim Taylor said.
The Concow School sent its 60 students home, but many faculty members are worried about their homes, said Golden Feather Union Elementary School District Superintendent Josh Peete.
“By the time we got out, the flames were a half mile away from the school. We tried to get all the nondigital things that we could — you know, stuff that couldn’t be replaced,” Peete said.
Butte College also closed Thursday morning, not because of the fire but so that fire personnel can use the campus as a staging area, the school said. Later, the sheriff’s office included the campus in its evacuation orders.
Allana Hall captured photos of low-hanging black smoke stretching for miles as she and her boyfriend evacuated Paradise. It’s the second time Hall has fled a California fire, she said.
“We had to drive through flames to make it out safely,” she said.
Videos and photos on social media show thick, opaque smoke wafting over the ridges toward town.
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders and warnings for numerous fire zones in the area.
A red flag warning is in effect in the area, meaning Thursday will bring 20-to-40-mph winds and low humidity that threaten to spread the wildfire. Gusts have reached speeds of 65 mph. The warning will remain in effect until Friday morning, officials said.
The chamber of commerce in nearby Chico said The Neighborhood Church was being set up as an evacuation center.