This story was last updated Thursday afternoon. For the latest on this fire through Friday, please see: Paradise ‘pretty much destroyed’ as deadly wildfire rages in Northern California
A “very dangerous” wildfire erupted suddenly in Northern California Thursday, forcing thousands of evacuations, burning down structures, bringing traffic to a standstill, and injuring civilians as it raged into the town of Paradise, home to 26,000 people.
“Several homes were reportedly on fire and the town’s hospital and at least one nursing home were evacuated,” the Sacramento Bee reported.
As of Thursday afternoon, the “Camp Fire” in Butte County, Calif., had already consumed 8,000 acres east and north of Chico and Oroville, about 90 miles north of Sacramento , and was zero percent contained.
After mandatory evacuations were ordered in Paradise and the neighboring communities of Pulga and Concow, chaos ensued.
Evacuation routes were clogged with people attempting to flee the growing blaze, according to the Sacramento Bee, and first responders expressed concern about whether they could escape.
"It is pure chaos up here,” California Highway Patrol officer Ryan Lambert told the Los Angeles Times.
Some people were being told to leave their vehicles and shelter in concrete structures.
As vehicles were abandoned, it forced “emergency personnel to push cars off the few roads leading to safety," the Sacramento Bee reported. “Firefighters also reported transporting burn victims who had tried to flee the fire on foot.”
The Associated Press reported the extent of people’s injuries was unknown.
Dave Toussaint, a retired Cal Fire firefighter, tweeted there were 150 civilians “trapped” on foot in Paradise and being protected by a “couple of engines.”
Distress calls reached social media.
“My mother is trapped with other drivers on Pearson Rd in Paradise with houses burning nearby,” tweeted @jdpiersoniv. “People leaving vehicles and running with children and pets.”
The Sacramento Bee also reported:
- Two highway patrol units were surrounded by fire and the officers had to escape by foot
- At least one firefighter was injured from smoke inhalation
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, tweeted that the fire was growing at a rate as high as “an estimated 80 acres per minute” Thursday morning. It grew from 1,000 acres to 5,000 acres in just a few hours. He described the rate of spread “truly astonishing.”
“This fire is not going to slow down anytime soon,” Toussaint tweeted. “I can’t stress it enough, if you are in front of the fire get out now.”
The National Weather Service had predicted dangerous fire weather conditions in California because of Santa Ana winds, which roar in from the east and accelerate down California’s north-to-south-oriented mountain slopes.
Red flag warnings for “critical fire weather conditions” were in effect not only for the Sacramento Valley but also through Central and Southern California. Wind gusts of 50 mph were expected in many locations.
The winds blowing down the mountain slopes not only fan flames but also dry out the land surface, lowering relative humidity levels to 10 percent — creating tinderbox conditions for the spread of fire.
There were 23.4 million Californians under red flag warnings Thursday into early Friday, after which the winds should ease and give responders improving conditions for battling the blaze.
Below find photos and video of the fire from social media: