Northern Californians flee flames and smoke as the Camp Fire devastates the town of Paradise and now threatens Chico. An evacuation warning was issued for parts of Chico Thursday night as the Camp Fire blazed toward the city of 90,000 people.
The devastation of Paradise left thousands of residents fleeing on foot and trapped in buildings as flames from the fast-moving Camp Fire overtook city streets, reported the Sacramento Bee.
“The whole town’s on fire,” said Scott Lotter, a town councilman who evacuated with his family. Desperate residents described a horrifying scene of chaos along evacuation routes clogged with traffic and abandoned cars reported the Sacramento Bee.
“There were flames to the left of me and flames to the right,” said Wendell Whitmore, a 62-year-old resident. “The flames were up in the trees, all the houses were on fire. The fire was three feet from my car. The rubber around the windows was melting. That’s when I decided to get out.”
The Camp Fire was reported to authorities shortly after 6:30 a.m. and had exploded to an estimated 20,000 acres by 7:06 p.m., fueled by steady winds and dry grass. Cal Fire officials said they had no control over the blaze and predicted it could reach the city limits of Chico, six miles from Paradise.
Emergency personnel reported to dispatchers that multiple people had been burned fleeing the blaze, including an elderly woman who received third-degree burns. More than 60 people were reported to be trapped inside a Walgreen’s in town, waiting for buses to shuttle them to safety. Adventist Health Feather River Hospital was evacuated and some auxiliary buildings – including a cardiology services building – had caught fire.
A burned California Highway Patrol cruiser was abandoned in town, its airbags deployed. Much of the town’s downtown was gone. A grocery store, a restaurant, and multiple other businesses had been damaged. Multiple homes burned near Skyway, the main commercial corridor. Members of the police and fire departments evacuated a station in town and were operating out of a parking lot as the fire approached.
Utility poles collapsed throughout town, adding to a chaotic scene as Paradise’s 26,000 residents fled.